Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 2 November 2016

Like Donald Trump in the US, ‘Sorry’ seems to be the hardest word for authoritarian populists to say. At least Dr Mahathir now admits and regrets that detainees under Operation Lalang were tortured. That is the first admission by the former Prime Minister and Home Minister that torture took place under his watch. By ‘torture’ he probably refers to physical torture that Joshua Jamaluddin, Irene Xavier and others were subjected to during Ops Lalang. Let me remind him that the International Red Cross considered our sixty days of solitary confinement as mental torture.

By this admission, Dr Mahathir must now be held accountable for the actions of the police who executed the tortures and so must the former IGP who has valiantly claimed that he was the one responsible for the detentions. Let me also remind them that Ops Lalang was not the only period when ISA detainees were tortured so there should really be a Royal Commission of Enquiry into all the cases of torture carried out under the various administrations using the ISA.

Torture Under The ISA: Pre-1987

Prior to the mass arrests of October 1987, human rights organisations and international missions including Amnesty International, had contended that the conditions under which detainees are held are deplorable; that long periods of interrogation are tantamount to mental torture and emotional deprivation. An International Panel of Lawyers who visited Malaysia in 1982 concluded in their report that:

“The cells lack the most basic of comforts, being of cement with no linen or furniture. They are badly lit and ventilated and are infested with insects, especially mosquitoes. The detainees, who are kept in solitary confinement, are deprived of any basic hygiene needs and are not allowed out of their cells except for interrogation.” (Report by the International Mission of Lawyers, 1983)

A 1982 Malaysian Bar Council Memorandum to the Government noted that detainees are “invariably held in solitary confinement which can have very serious psychiatric consequences”. The Bar Council added that detainees complained of round-the-clock interrogation, causing “severe mental and physical stress”.

The tortures undergone by ISA detainees during the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties are well known to those who know these former ISA detainees. Their experiences are slowly but surely coming to light, mainly in Chinese publications. I have highlighted before a hitherto unpublished statement by “political prisoners of Kawasan A, B, C”, dated 1 May 1969, a historic document released from Batu Gajah Detention Camp which we need not go into here. It reveals the bestiality that the torturers are capable of.

Torture during Operation Lalang: 1987

As a victim of the ISA under Operation Lalang from 1987 to 1989, I can vouch for the mental torture that we went through during the first sixty days. Such conditions are far worse than those accorded convicted criminals. Most oppressive of all is the terror of lawlessness under the hands of torturers who are not accountable to the public. Yeshua Jamaluddin was detained for being a Malay Christian convert. His affidavit at his Habeas Corpus hearing in October 1988 should be an eye-opener:

“I was not allowed to sleep for days at a stretch and was warned that I would not get any food if I did not cooperate. One Inspector Yusoff also threatened to disturb my girlfriend if I did not give any information. I was assaulted by Inspectors Yusoff, Zainuddin, Ayub and another officer on a number of occasions. On one occasion I was knocked to the ground and injured my back. Since then, I have been passing blood in my urine and have been suffering from pains in my lower back constantly…

“On another occasion during interrogation, Inspector Yusoff forced me to strip naked and to enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Inspector Yusoff also forced me to crawl on the floor in a naked state…”

“A police constable forced me to stand on one leg with both my arms outstretched holding my slippers. He made me remain in this position for two hours. He then called in a woman constable and her young daughter and asked them to look at me saying: “This Malay is not aware of who he is. He changed his religion. He has no shame!” ( Kua, K.S.,”445 Days Behind The Wire” 1999: 194)

Similar charges of physical torture under the hands of Special Branch personnel can be seen in the affidavits by Chow Chee Keong and Irene Xavier at their respective habeas Corpus applications.

Torture Under The ISA: Post-1987

The March 1989 seating of the Malaysian Parliament heard this shocking disclosure of torture inflicted on an ISA detainee, Abdul Rahman Hamzah, a former Sarawak State Assemblyman:

“I was tortured by various means…at any one time there were always three officers present but on one occasion, seven officers tortured me by kicking, punching, slapping and by hitting me with broom sticks. I lost consciousness a few times.

“I was asked to duck walk, frog jump, crawl all over the room, corridor and bathroom, urinate like a dog, given the air-condition treatment after a cold shower, forced to do hundreds of push-ups…

“A tin was used to cover my head and at the same time the tin was hit with a stick. The sound of the hitting of the tin deafened one’s hearing and cut and bruised my head, cheeks and ears. This caused my head and upper face to swell.

“My interrogators would sometimes lift my body by throttling my throat with their hands and at the same time forcing me up. When this was done, my throat protruded and saliva would come out of my mouth. At the same time I was being hit over the cheeks and jaw areas…They twisted my wrist and body round several times before swinging me violently against the wall. I was forced to do mock sexual acts before my sneering torturers who also used stretched elastic bands to flick at my ears and nipples…My head was pushed into a filthy squat toilet bowl while it was flushed repeatedly…I was also poked with a floor mop used for cleaning the toilet…”

Abdul Rahman and also other detainees have concurred that:

“The interrogators would appear to be possessed by the devil. When they interrogated me, their lips, hands and fingers would quiver. At times like this, I was frightened as I felt I was in the hands of people who had lost their reason.” (ibid)

Recent Torture Under The ISA

The brutality inflicted on the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim by the Inspector General of Police himself in 1998 has been well-publicised not only over the internet but also in the mainstream press. The IGP has admitted that much but while the victim of that brutality is languishing in jail, the torturer has been enjoying precious freedom all this time! And he, of all persons has the gall to say recently that we, “the Lalang had to be weeded out!”

The Royal Commission of Inquiry found Rahim Noor (IGP at the time) culpable in the beating of Anwar but no other members of the police were found to be complicit, despite the fact that several senior police officers were present in the room during the beating and they had not come forward with this evidence. The Prime Minister who was also then Home Minister was not found to be culpable by the Commission even though the police force is under the charge of the Home Minister.

In February 1999, Mior Abdul Razak bin Yahya released an affidavit stating that he was threatened and abused while in police custody in 1998, which resulted in him falsely confessing to having sexual relations with the former Deputy Prime Minister. Abdul Malek Hussein also filed police reports and released an affidavit stating that he was tortured physically, including being beaten unconscious and being forced to drink urine while he was detained under the ISA in 1998.

Dr Munawar Anees’ harrowing experience under the ISA can be seen in his 36-page statutory declaration which is available on the web (Search: Affidavit/Statutory Declaration of Dr.Munawar Anees). This is a cleaned up selection to show the depths of depravity and inhumanity of the Malaysian Special Branch:

“ By the end of the second day the long hours of interrogation, the lack of sleep, and the lack of decent food had left me completely disoriented and exhausted…Lying there curled up in that foetal position I could only replay in my mind what my captors had repeatedly drummed into me, the sex acts they asked me to act out, the vulnerable position I was in…

“ One of the four screamed at me to stand up. I did so. All four came from behind the table and surrounded me in a very aggressive manner as if they were about to assault me. One of them literally had his face in mine. They all screamed at me, in my ears, loudly, again and again and again that I had (had sexual intercourse) with Anwar. They screamed and screamed and screamed, in my ears, at my face, at me, again and again, over and over asking me to say ‘yes’ until I gave in and broke down saying yes, yes. They stopped screaming. That was what they wanted to hear. They were not interested that it was untrue.”

Dr M must now be accountable for the tortures

We call upon SUHAKAM to bring all these torturers to book and to hold the IGP, Home Minister and Prime Minister at the time responsible for these tortures that were carried out in the name of so-called ‘national security’. The National Human Rights Commission has sufficient evidence to start with. We demand a full inquiry that will not let off any torturer who has inflicted pain on any detainee. At the same time, we call upon all former political detainees to lodge a report of their detention with SUHAKAM so that our nation can know the full facts of this ISA reign of terror.