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Guardian: Mahathir's Foes Pay The Price of Dissent
By John Aglionby

24/6/2001 2:57 am Sun

[Walaupun tahanan ISA ditangkap dengan tuduhan ingin mencetus kekacauan militan, mereka tidak pula disoal sedemikian di dalam tahanan. Gobalakrishnan misalnya, diasak dengan soalan berbentuk seks sahaja. Ezam disuruh menafikan sebarang ikatan dengan Anwar manakala Tian Chua didesak mengaku sahaja dengan satu pengakuan yang telah disediakan. Ini bukan namanya penyiasatan - tetapi lebih kepada pemaksaan. Yang peliknya polis yang mendera seperti berkhidmat untuk Umno - bukannya negara. Sampai sekarang tiada roket atau grenade ditemui di mana-mana kerana itu semua kelentong belaka - jika tidak semua tahanan itu akan dihadapkan ke mahkamah dengan segera.

Reformasi cuba dikaitkan dengan keganasan dan ISA menjadi alat untuk mencari pengakuan agar perjuangan reformis dapat diaibkan. Tetapi hakim Hishamuddin telah muncul dengan keputusan yang menggegarkan sehingga teraib polis dan kerajaan pula. Sekarang Mahathir sedang dihantui oleh kebangkitan isteri tahanan ISA yang amat tajam bisanya. Mungkinkah dia kecundang di dalam aib di tangan kaum hawa sebagaimana yang diramal oleh beberapa nujum di dalam negara? - Editor] story/0,3604,511362,00.html

The Guardian, UK
23rd June 2001

Mahathir's foes pay the price of dissent

Detained Malaysian opposition leaders speak from their prison cells

John Aglionby in Kuala Lumpur

Gobalakrishnan knew he was in trouble when most of the thugs who had been interrogating him for the past couple of hours left the room and handed over to a superior officer.

The officer, who like all the others never identified himself, pushed the senior executive of Malaysians opposition party Keadilan (Justice) off his chair and kicked the seat away.

"I fell to the ground and then was pulled up and put against the wall," Mr Gobalakrishnan said. "The man put his fist against my forehead and said: 'Gobi, I don't know what my men will do to you. I can't control them. Just confess to any sexual affair. Once they come in, they can do anything to you'."

This physical and psychological intimidation was typical of the treatment Mr Gobalakrishnan and nine other Malaysian democracy campaigners, mostly in their 30s and 40s, endured after being detained in April under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The decades-old legislation allows an initial period of 60 day solitary confinement without charges being brought and without access to lawyers and relatives, and the option of a further two years confinement, extended indefinitely if the government considers the person a threat to national security.

The police released two of Mr Gobalakrishnan's fellow detainees, Badaruddin Ismail and Raja Petra Kamaruddin, after 40-odd days in solitary confinement at an unknown location.

A court then stunned the country by releasing Mr Gobalakrishnan and Abdul Ghani Haron, another Keadilan party executive, after 51 days.

The other six - Tian Chua, Mohamad Ezam Mohd Nor, Saari Sungib, Badrul Amin Bahron and Lokman Noor Adam, all Keadilan leaders, and the social activist Hishamuddin Rais - have had their detention extended indefinitely.

This is the first time the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has used the ISA extension against his political opponents since a period of suppression in 1987, when more than 110 people were arrested, and more than 40 of those had their detention periods extended.

In a world exclusive, the Guardian smuggled questions into the six in detention and Mr Gobalakrishnan and Mr Badaruddin gave their first newspaper interviews. Their accounts of their time in the hands of Dr Mahathir's security personnel paint a horrifying picture of the measures an ageing ruler is willing to take to snuff out the tiniest shoots of grassroots democratic opposition.

The terror began on April 10, four days before Keadilan planned a huge demonstration deliver a "memorandum of the people" to the national human rights commission. Over a period of days special branch police officers picked up the activists at their offices, at home, at airports, at roadblocks and at restaurants.

At first they were accused of threatening to overthrow the government "by militant means" with mortars, guns and rocket-launchers.

After being taken to the nearest police station, "we were brought blindfolded and handcuffed to an unknown place", wrote Mr Tian, who answered on behalf of the six detainees.

They were kept in cells less than three metres square with a concrete bench, blanket, pillow, tap, toilet and 25-watt bulb set in the ceiling, too high to reach.

Treated like hostages

They had no idea how much time was passing because they saw no sunlight.

"We were treated like hostages," Mr Tian wrote. "We were interrogated for 60 days, very intensively for the first 4-5 weeks. Ezam and Saari were kept awake for a couple of days without sleep during interrogation.

"The interrogation [was] designed to put heavy mental and psychological pressure on us so that we [would] confess our 'crime'."

The interrogators, who the detainees believe were a mixture of special branch officers and officials of Dr Mahathir's party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), varied their tactics for each detainee.

They tried to get Mr Gobalakrishnan to confess to adultery and, he believes, gave him food that he was unable to stomach: as an activist, he had been thrown in jail a number of times before and this had never been a problem. The result was that this former national athlete was reduced to a panting and gibbering wreck with rotting gums and swollen fingers.

Mr Ezam was asked to renounce any link with Anwar Ibrahim, Mr Mahathir's former deputy who was sacked in 1998, arrested, badly beaten up, convicted of corruption and s###my in sham trials, and then sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Anwar quickly became a symbol for the opposition movement, and his wife, Wan Aziza Ismail, formed Keadilan. It fought the last election in a coalition with three other opposition parties, without making significant inroads into the government coalition's majority.

None of the detainees yielded under the pressure of interrogation, despite not being able to see their families for the first 30-odd days and having no contact with their lawyers.

"A statement of confession was prepared," Mr Tian wrote. "But we were not allowed to read it before submitting to the minister. [So] we never signed."

While they were in solitary confinement reading material was restricted to religious books, but Mr Badaruddin preferred to pass the time singing old Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdink hits. "My favourites were Green, Green Grass of Home, Please Release Me, and You Mean Everything to Me," he said.

A police spokesman, Superintendent Benjamin Hasbie said the action of the authorities was completely justified, even though it had produced no evidence to substantiate its claims, and the charges brought were covered by laws which require a proper trial. "If you let these little things get out of control, they could cause instability and then disrupt the nation's economy," he said.

Tengku Adnan, a senior UMNO official and close aide of Dr Mahathir, explained why the ISA was still in force. "Do you want us to wait until you see burning, until you see killing and then we take action?" he said. "The ISA is a preventive law and our party and leadership does not act at whim. We use it to protect and we do not like to see the population of Malaysia in a situation where they start burning houses, they start killing one another."

Mahathir 'desperate'

Everyone outside the government coalition believes the truth is very different. "It shows Mahathir is desperate," Ms Wan Aziza said. "We're making inroads. We're making an impact."

"Dr M feels threatened by the rising public criticism and opposition towards his leadership," Mr Tian wrote. "[But] we believe that Dr M could not stop the changing consciousness of Malaysian people, especially the younger generation."

The next general election is not due for another three years, however.

After their detention was extended, the activists were moved to the Kamunting detention camp, where there are 64 other detained under the ISA, although none is a political prisoner.

Conditions there have improved somewhat: they are kept in pairs in large dormitories, meet each other daily, can see their lawyers almost at will, and are allowed weekly family visits, but can only write one aerogramme letter a week.

Their appeal hearing is set for July 9. "No one is expecting victory," one of their lawyers said. "But we have seeds of hope."