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Memories of ISA by former detainees
By Aliran

11/6/2001 8:13 pm Mon

Memories of ISA by former detainees

Abdul Aziz Ishak

Special Guest: The Detention in Malaysia of an Ex-Cabinet Minister

Singapore, Oxford University Press, 1977

Secret Holding Centre

More than once my Case Officers asked me, apropos of nothing in particular, if I knew the location of the centre where I was being held. I said I did not. In fact the location of this place, known as the Holding Centre, was a jealously-guarded secret.? The security of the place itself, especially of the inmates, should not be known to anyone, even to those working in the Police Force - in fact, to no one, that is, other than the Special Branch officers assigned directly to such duties. (p. 75)

True Lies

They said, 'Datuk Raja Abu Hanifah and Ishak Haji Mohamed have confessed. So why should you not do so?' I was not deterred nor deluded by this line of approach. Had they not begun to realize even yet that the answers I had given to their questions were honest? Did they really expect me to break down and tell some other story that would fit in with the confessions? As far as I was concerned, how did I know whether this statement about the confessions was fiction or fact? If it was fiction, they must think me a fool indeed. If it was fact, then what did it matter? My story was mine; their stories were theirs. At this point we reached a stalemate. (pp. 105-6)

Is Special Branch God?

'None of you', said I, 'should appoint yourself a judge of what we are alleged to have committed. Only God has the full facts of the case, not even the Special Branch; and the Special Branch is not free from making mistakes.' (p. 76)

Is the Special Branch Neutral?

After his arrest until his Order of Detention is made out, a detainee is completely under the authority of the Special Branch, and strictly so, with ?no political interference by anyone??. But this rigid procedure can be tampered with even before the Special Branch has enough evidence to recommend that a person should be picked up. In fact, it can occur from above. Those at the top can ask the Special Branch to devise a plan to detain so-and-so. This can happen even in a Government that claims to practise democracy? (pp. 111-112)


S. Husin Ali

Two Faces: Detention Without Trial

Kuala Lumpur, Insan, 1996

Confess What You Didn't Do

Thousands of people have fallen victims to the ISA since it was introduced in 1960. My experience under this act is little, compared to what has been experienced by many others. There were those who were detained for more than fifteen years; and there were also those who were forced to take their lives because they could not bear the sufferings any more. ? Experience has shown that it is so easy for people to be branded, accused, detained and tortured, until they are forced to confess to what they never even did. (

Bad Cop, Worse Cop

'You know. I can force you to crawl and lick the floor,' he shouted. I continued to remain silent. Go to hell with him! If they refused to believe me and wanted to torture me, let them. God would repay them for all they did.

'You must talk. Otherwise, I will beat you up,' saying that, he walked out.

His friend was still there, sitting. He asked me to sit. He spoke to me in a soft and civilised way. He asked me to give my cooperation. He began to relate a few incidents when we were in school together in Batu Pahat. So, he was playing the 'good guy' role, compared to the 'bad guy' just now. (p.107)

Do Unto Others...

I did a lot of free exercise in the room, any time I felt like doing so. One day, I saw a picture of the Minister of Home Affairs in the newspaper that they used to wrap my food. I took the paper and for three or four days I exercised by jumping repeatedly on it, until the picture was tattered. I only wanted to release my tension. (p. 114)

The One Who Got Away

'Syed. We know that you have connections with the underground. We know that you were the intermediary between underground elements with Dr Mahathir and Musa Hitam. You must tell us about this.'

'This is a lie,' I said emphatically. I could not understand why they wanted to implicate these leading figures of UMNO with the underground.

'If you admit this, then you can immediately leave this place', he uttered these words with no sign of any emotion.

Oh God. What was happening? Did they think I was that stupid? If I confirmed this false matter, certainly they would prolong my detention, this time for admitting having links with the underground. If there were innocent people detained because of my false admision, then I would never be able to live with myself any more.

I decided not to entertain this man. He too did not pursue his questions. Maybe he was just trying to fly a kite. But I was convinced he was not acting alone. He must have been directed by his superiors. I was certain nobody here moved on his own.

A few years later, after I was freed, I was told that even Samad (Idris) was asked to implicate several UMNO leaders, including Dr Mahathir, in the same manner. As it so happened, Samad was quite close to Mahathir at one time, especially when they were active in the Afro-Asia Solidarity Committee, Malaysia?.

To cut the story short, Hussein Onn decided on Dr Mahathir as his Deputy. The Home Minister saw Mahathir as the biggest obstruction to realising his ambition. Mahathir could easily be detained under the ISA, if two persons could corroborate that he had links with the communist underground. That explained why they asked Samad and me about Mahathir. (pp. 109-110)

The One Who Didn't

Then Anwar was called. On the first day itelf I heard voices raised and some banging of the table. When I had the chance to ask, Anwar told me he was questioned by four interrogators. At first they didn't ask him anything.They just scolded him. They accused him of always creating trouble, opposing the government and splitting the Malays.

'They accused me of receving millions of dollars from Libya. They have been spreading lies and they they want me to admit them as truths. What is this?? Anwar's face was red with anger.

The intimidating tactics used by the interrogators soon changed to friendly conversations. According to Anwar, two of his interrogators tried to discuss with him matters relating to religion and nation.

One Friday, one of them, dressed in sarong, Malay dress and a turban visited Anwar in his lock-up. He was there for a long time, asking about all kinds of things.

Anwar was interrogated for two weeks. He was often called quite early in the morning, usually to the nearest room. Sometimes they asked him to write various statements in his lock-up on the issues raised during interrogation. Anwar felt irritated because he was questioned repeatedly on the same subjects.

'They want me to condemn the communists. What has this to do with the communists? The communists did not arrest me. It is not the communists who are causing inflation and poverty now.? Anwar was grumbling angrily.

Then he continued with a sigh, 'They said we can be released early if we condemn the communists. They continue to accuse me of receiving money from Gadafi. They also accuse me of organising all the demonstrations.' (pp. 24-25)


Kassim Ahmad

Universiti Kedua: Kisah Tahanan Di Bawah ISA

Petaling Jaya, Media Intellek, 1983

Father and Sons

I wanted to cry but my tears wouldn't flow. The face of my youngest son, Ahmad Shauqi, nine years of age then and in Standard 3, floated before my eyes. He was the child to whom I was closest. I thought, he surely wouldn't understand why his father was arrested. My two other sons were in Form 3. The second had gone 'express' two or three years earlier; hence both were placed in the same class. My heart was filled with worries over their education. But in my present condition I couldn't do anything at all. No one could fault me or my sons if their education declined. (p. 26, translated)

"Turning Over' the Family

As I have said, the 'turning over' techniques go beyond moral considerations: whether they are lawful is a question that never arises. Hence even your family can sometimes be a space that will be trespassed. You are brought to meet with your wife or family at a certain hour but your wife or family are told to come at another time, an hour later, or they may not have been told to come at all. When you come and you wait and your family do not show up, you feel dejected, maybe even angry. Then they will say to you that your family or your wife are not concerned with you anymore, and they will instigate you to divorce your wife. Or your wife may be visited by a police officer for the purpose of winning her over and persuading her to divorce you. (p. 35, translated)

Tireless Interrogators

That night I was interrogated till the next morning by a new team of interrogators whom I'd met the evening before. They took turns, two or three of them every two hours. I was made to sit on a round stool with no back. Compared to the first team, this team was extremely rough. They spewed obsenities, screamed at me, cursed, scolded, insulted and humiliated me all through the night. (p. 49, translated)


James Wong Kim Min

The Price of Loyalty

Singapore, Summer Times Publishing, 1983

What a Feast!

Breakfast consisted of one small green banana (pisang embun), one slice of plain bread and a glass of watery black coffee. Lunch came in the form of a newspaper-wrapped packet containing, in a plastic sheet, some white rice, a spoonful or two of curry gravy and, on top of the rice, two small fried 'ikan curot', a fish about the size of my index finger. That was all. Dinner was virtually the same, except that in place of ikan curot sometimes there would be a thumb-sized piece of salt fish with some vegetable scraps such as traces of pumpkin. (p. 41)

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Do What You're Told

'Dato, as you know we are only police officers doing our job. We'll report everything you said but frankly we still have no idea why you were arrested. We simply cannot see any reason for your arrest but it is not for us to say whether or not you will be served with a detention order. That is up to our superiors and the Minister concerned.' (p. 47)

Guilty From The Start

I have already referred several times to the falsity of the accusations against me. During my time in detention I made frequent representations, directly and through my lawyers, to the government protesting that I had been wrongfully accused; but to no avail?. A horrifying aspect of detention without trial in the Malaysian manner is that the detainee is considered guilty from the start. The old and honourable maxim that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty means nothing. From the moment I was arrested some officials seemed delighted to regard me as guilty. (p. 76)

Opposition Worse Than Criminals

Why should I, a former parliamentarian and official Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, and one of the founders of Malaysia, be treated worse than a common criminal, kept in solitary confinement, without exercise, on a starvation diet, sleeping on a cold, concrete bed, with one thin blanket, no pillow, no sleeping mat, let alone mattress, no mosquito net for what turned out to be sixty-six days and nights? (p. 52)


Dr Kua Kia Soong

445 Days Behind The Wire: An Account Of The Oct 1987 ISA Detentions

Kuala Lumpur, Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Resource and Research Centre, 1989

Hell of a Cell

The first thing that struck me on entering the cell was the suffocating confinement of the walls. The biggest window to the beyond was a hatch on the dark green heavy door. This hatch was scarcely large enough for a fist and a mug. It faced the cell opposite. There was not much to see as all the hatches were kept tightly shut at all times...

A concrete platform protruded from the wall opposite the door. With a thin slab of plywood atop, this was the bed which was big enough for a six footer. Contiguous with this, on the same side of the wall was my "attached bathroom", all three-and-a-half by three of it. It was wholly dominated by a squat-toilet and a tap...

In this claustrophobic space I was to spend sixty one days of solitary confinement. (p. 21)

Going on the Air

Early on during the second week or so, I was asked if I would like to do an interview on TV. I said, 'Why not, if I can say whatever I want to say?' I was given a piece of paper and I wrote, among other things, that I was more convinced than ever the ISA is a most iniquitous law if it can be used against innocent people like me; that I was relieved that the UMNO rally had been cancelled. My IOs took one look at it and said they would show it to their superiors. I did not hear anymore about television interviews after that. (p. 39)

Why Don't We All Join Barisan Nasional

'Why don't you join the Barisan Nasional (the ruling coalition)?' was a constant refrain and offer that was put to me during the interrogations?.

'Don't you know you have been used? We've got statements from one of your leaders (also under detention at the time) to show that he has used you all along!'

This sort of bluff was a tactic they used quite often. I replied by saying how thin the government's propaganda was whenever they said that people had been used: 'When rubber tappers or others in the poorer classes are unhappy, you accuse them of being used by others; now even an academician with a PhD has been used like a puppet!' (p. 41)


Dr Tan Seng Giaw

The First 60 Days: The 27 October ISA Arrests

Petaling Jaya, Democratic Action Party, 1989

Lightning Force

Special Branch officers are trained as professionals to strike at detainees with lightning, to demoralise them and to extract as much information as possible in the shortest time, so that more arrests, particularly of underground activists, can be made. With determined, non-violent and non-subversive detainees, their previous methods are out of date. Nevertheless, detainees are at their mercy. They use whatever method to break those detainees provided they can get away with it. As a result, some detainees sustain permanent damage in one way or another. (p. 64)

Don't Believe the News

Whenever newspapers, journals or television carry unfavourable or distorted news or lies against them, detainees may feel outraged. It is like adding insult to injury. The callousness of the Home Minister and his deputy is evident; they take especial pleasure in doing it. From time to time, detainees would send letters, telegrams or ask their legal advisers to seek redress. (p. 110)

And We Are All Human Beings

Under sustained duress, detainees can behave in unusual manners. The pressure of a caged person in addition to temporary or permanent damage sustained during the first 60 days can affect detainees' behaviour. Therefore, we have to give allowances to fellow detainees. Tempers would flare and suspicion of certain members would arise. Friction would occur with or without conflicts of ideology and personality. (p.116)