KUALA LUMPUR: A former detainee under the Internal Security Act (ISA), Fadzullah Razak, recalls with bitterness the day the prime minister announced the repeal of the act exactly one year ago.
“When we found out the ‘amazing’ news through NST and Utusan – the only newspapers detainees are provided with – everyone was shocked and in disbelief, even the detention staff,” Fadzullah told a press conference here today.
“My fellow detainees were so happy; some were jumping with joy, others rolled around on the floor. You’d find people celebrating in all sorts of manner.
“But I told them: ‘Don’t believe it, as the government has never been sincere about it’,” said Fadzullah.
His scepticism on that day is apparently not unfounded – although exactly one year has passed since Najib Tun Razak’s much-anticipated announcement, 30 detainees remain in the Kamunting detention centre under a now-defunct act that allows for detention without trial.
After a new bill was tabled to replace the ISA this year, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein had ignored calls for the detainees’ immediate release and instead said he would personally look through each case to determine their fate.
Fadzullah himself was only released last month, along with 11 other detainees, after spending two years there for allegedly having links with terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah – links that had never been proven in court.
“The situation in the centre was extremely stressful – imagine knowing the ISA had been abolished, but you’re still stuck there as political hostages,” said Fadzullah.
“We’re talking about innocent people here; people who had never been charged in court. How can we accept our fate, as we had not done anything wrong?”
He said the police would tell the ISA detainees to simply resign themselves to their fate – a task that he said was far easier said than done.
Beatings, bribery and threats
Fadzullah explained that before detainees were brought to Kamunting, they were first “tortured” for 60 days at a police remand centre (PRC) until they confess their crimes.
“Torture, sexual humiliation, 60 days of beatings… It’s impossible [in that situation] for you to say, ‘I’m innocent.’ You just want it to stop,” he said.
“So whether you’re guilty or not, you confess,” he said.
Fadzullah said he knew of a 19-year-old detainee who, unable to withstand the torture, had strangled himself with a towel.
He also said that even though the violence stops once detainees are taken to the centre, the officers resort to threats and bribery to elicit cooperation.
“The officers threaten us all the time. They say things like: we can have you released early. So the detainees will just follow orders,” he recalled.
But when inspectors from the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) visited the centre, Fadzullah said, the officers would bribe the detainees with meals from fast-food outlet McDonald’s.
“Whenever the inspectors come to see us, the officers would observe from behind to see who would dare to become a whistleblower,” he said.
“It’s all just a game to them.”
Situation worsens for remaining detainees
Meanwhile, lawyer Farida Mohammad said that she had visited several of the remaining detainees yesterday, and had found that their situation was worsening.
She said that one of the detainees, Razali Kassan, was suffering from kidney problems and was forced to purchase his own meals at the centre as the doctor had advised him to avoid oily foods.
“This doesn’t make sense at all. He is being detained there; the centre should be providing him with the right food, not forcing him to buy his own meals,” she said.
She also revealed that teacher Bakar Baba, who was ironically detained two months after the ISA’s repeal was announced, is now jobless.
“His family received a letter from the Education Ministry that he has been sacked. And since he received the letter two months late, he has passed the deadline for the appeal,” said Farida.
But she said that Bakar was not giving up and had appealed to the ministry to have his job reinstated, despite not knowing when he would ever be released from the detention centre.