Although the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had given an assurance that he did not want to see “another black eye” and that “We have had enough with one black eye …We don’t want to see two or three more”, the police refusal to allow access to the detainees after 18 days of the initial arrest raises alarm about their safety and treatment short of “another black eye”.
It is open knowledge that the police have many ways to ill-treat and “brutalise” detainees short of “another black eye”, as had been chillingly narrated by former ISA detainees about their traumatic experiences during the first 60 days of their ISA detention.
Two days ago, four women detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) during the 1987 Operasi Lalang spoke out on the mental and physical torture they were forced to undergo during their initial 60-day investigative period.
The four are Universiti Putra Malaysia retired assistant professor Dr Cecilia Ng, women's issues activist Lim Chin Chin, founder member of the Women's Development Centre (WDC) and All Women's Action Society (Awam) Dr Chee Heng Leng and Sahabat Wanita's Irene Xavier - who were all my fellow detainees in Kamunting Detention Centre during the Operation Lalang ISA dragnet.
Xavier said that during her first 60 days, she was subjected to physical torture including holding up her foot so that she could be beaten.
She said that she was humiliated and it was her first time experiencing violence as "not even my father had laid his hand on me".
"To get new underwear, I had to show my soiled sanitary pad. I was beaten and during those particular sessions, no policewomen would be present. They would ask me to choose whether I wanted to be beaten by a metal piece or a wooden piece.
"Without me stating my preference, they would beat me hard on the legs and on my soles. During these beatings, I was required to hold my foot up to be beaten," said Xavier.
Dr Chee said the way a person is arrested under ISA is “designed to intimidate and instil fear and terror”.
She said she was made to feel totally defenceless and the ISA allowed for this. They ransacked her house for three hours before they took her away and put her through a non-stop 72-hour interrogation.
"I was handcuffed, made to wear blacked-out spectacles, and put in a windowless cell, through which food was sent in through a small opening in the door. I was deprived of footwear, underwear and change of clothes. For the first two nights, I had to sleep on a plywood, without a blanket," she said.
She said that they would interrogate her by banging on tables and chairs and using abusive language. At times they pretended to inject her with poisonous substances, she added.
From past experience, ISA detainees would normally be allowed their first, though very brief, access by their family members by the end of the second week of their arrest.
In this case, the first seven ISA detainees are coming to the end of their third week of arrest and still denied access to their family members - raising legitimate fears about their safety and treatment in the hands of the police.
The Police and the Government are giving themselves “another black eye” in their callous disregard of the legitimate concerns of family members, Malaysians and the international civil society about the safety and treatment of the detainees by continuing to refuse access to their family members and lawyers.
I can speak from personal experience that denying access to family members to ISA detainees during this period has nothing whatsoever to do with national security considerations but purely police methods to try to break a detainee, whether by psychological pressure, physical abuse or pure torture.
I call on the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to assert his authority to direct the police to immediately allow access of all the ISA detainees by their family members to demonstrate that the authorities do not countenance ill-treatment or torture to accompany the basic human rights violation represented by the draconian ISA.