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Ex-political detainee gets RM 2.5 Million for torture while in detention

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Malaysian human rights activists are jubilant over a recent landmark court decision granting damages to a former detainee of Malaysia's highly controversial security law. The RM 2.5 million award of exemplary damages for his arrest and torture while in custody in 1998 was the court's way of showing its abhorrence at the gross abuse of power by the police in the manner in which they used the Malaysian Internal Security Act.
(Bangkok, 23 October 2007) Malaysian human rights activists are jubilant over a recent landmark court decision, granting a former detainee RM 2.5 million (about US $ 0.74 million) for his detention and torture in 1998 under Malaysia’s highly controversial Internal Security Act (ISA).

Abdul Malek Hussein, who now heads polls watchdog Malaysians for Free Elections (Mafrel), was detained for 57 days under the draconian act for addressing a demonstration at the height of Malaysia’s Reformasi movement, which was sparked by the controversial sacking of then deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. 

The Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus ruled that Abdul Malek’s arrest and detention were made in bad faith under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution. He added that the nature of the interrogation was clearly for a political purpose, and was not based on genuine concern for national security.

The ISA allows the government to detain someone for security reasons for an indefinite period, but it does allow access to lawyers. Malek, however, was denied access to his lawyer, which the court ruled was unconstitutional. He asserted that the award of exemplary damages was to show the abhorrence of the courts at the gross abuse of power by the police using the ISA

Abdul Malek took to court the defendants – the government, then Inspector General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor and a special branch officer Borhan Daud – when he filed his civil suit in March 1999.

During the trial, he testified that he was stripped naked in an air-conditioned room, blindfolded during interrogation, physically assaulted up to 60 times, beaten until he was unconscious, forced to drink urine and subjected to sexual abuse. He also testified that he saw the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) punching him in the chin in the interrogation room when his blindfold accidentally dropped.

Abdul Malek won the rare lawsuit as the judge was convinced that his claim of assault and battery took place after major contradictions were found in the testimony of the defendants’ witnesses when compared with Malek’s own “consistent statements”.

The judge also condemned the IGP for his “despicable conduct”, saying it was “shameful and a disgrace that shows a bad example to the department of men under his charge”.

Meanwhile, Abdul Malek said the judgment was not about monetary compensation but bringing the police officers involved in his torture to justice, as those who had tortured him have gone scot-free, with some even having been promoted. He said he would consider lodging a police report to investigate the torture and abuse of power by these officers.

His lawyer Rasiah Sivarasa said the verdict was a wake-up call for the government. He urged the government to set up the long-proposed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission to investigate such human rights abuses.

Groups campaigning against the ISA welcomed the exemplary damages as the ISA could not be justified. “Any kind of detention without trial can be opened up to abuse", said Syed Ibrahim, chairperson of Abolish ISA Movement.

In an immediate response, Amnesty International Malaysia called on the government to abolish the ISA, which, they said, was an "arbitrary law that creates a climate for torture and ill-treatment".