The recent arrest of several people under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) of Malaysia has rekindled the memory of my own brutal kidnapping by the Malaysian police and the ongoing suffering of our family.
It was September 14, 1998, when 10-12 plain-clothes policemen raided my house. In front of my wailing, weeping, wife those savages kidnapped me to keep me as a shackled hostage in their unknown and known dungeons for the next 126 days. The world came to know of my disappearance, under the conspiracy orchestrated by Mahathir, only after Amnesty International declared me a prisoner of conscience. Later, International PEN adopted me as a writer in prison.
The subservient Malaysian media either stayed mum or they spread ingrained disinformation on my whereabouts. My wife, Nadia, was constantly misled with threats and harassment and her attempts to engage a lawyer on my behalf were frustrated by the police. They had one Yaqub Karim ready to forego professional legal ethics in exchange for some crumbs from the Malaysian police.
The assault that took place on that Monday morning was after direct orders issued by Mahathir in his capacity as Home Minister. I, therefore, continue to hold him personally responsible for that heinous crime against me and my family. No camouflage under any constitutional, legal or journalistic parlance will ever exonerate him of inflicting the trauma that my family and I continue to endure consequent to his deliberate crime that led to my abduction.
"[We are] deeply distressed to know that Mahathir has once again unleashed the terror of ISA against his political foes. That is yet another evidence of moral bankruptcy where the state apparatus is made to serve the cause of a corrupt political clan.
My prolonged detention by Mahathir's hoodlums taught me how it feels to be forcibly separated from one's wife and children. How it feels to be searched and seized, disallowed to make phone calls, handcuffed, blindfolded, stripped naked, driven in an animal cage, shaven bald, endlessly interrogated, humiliated, drugged, deprived of sleep, physically abused. What it's like to be threatened, blackmailed, tormented by police lawyers, brutalized to make a totally false confession, hospitalized for a consequent heart ailment, and treated as a psychiatric patient with symptoms of Stockholm syndrome.
Barely surviving on a meager diet of rancid rice and chicken along with 12 medicines a day, I spent nearly four months handcuffed around the clock to my hospital bed, under the watchful eyes of the prison guards.
Thereafter, my ability to speak, read, and write took a considerable time to show signs of recovery. Short-term memory lapses were frequent. I existed in a fluid state in which suicidal tendencies, depression and despair were punctuated by fits of rage and indignation. In spite of more than two years since I regained my freedom, I continue to suffer from psychiatric difficulties. Not of to speak of my two young children whose innocence was so brutally robbed by Mahathir.
Nadia and I are deeply distressed to know that Mahathir has once again unleashed the terror of ISA against his political foes. That is yet another evidence of moral bankruptcy where the state apparatus is made to serve the cause of a corrupt political clan. That the Malaysian police, the judiciary and the media are touching new heights in legitimizing injustice and suppression of dissent is a given. More so when Mahathir himself has made a declaration defying norms of civilized behavior.
At the same time, and in keeping with his immoral and un-Islamic behavior, he has made specific allegations against the current ISA detainees without an iota of evidence. This reminds me of the totally false and slanderous statements he made about me after ordering my kidnapping. Just like in my case, it is a foregone conclusion that the Malaysian police, in cohort with the judiciary, will shamelessly fabricate "evidence" to implicate these new ISA detainees. However, Mahathir's dotage remains an obstacle in realizing that any statement extracted under torture and coercion is patently invalid. Mahathir is under moral and legal obligations to make public the "incontrovertible evidence" against me that he boasted of two years ago. He has none. But does he care?
In spite of the crushing weight of oppression in Malaysia, the public mood appears to be changing. There seems to be a greater resolve for the assertion of individual rights. Nadia narrated to me how, as a devastated and penniless woman with two small children in a foreign land, she spent those 126 days where erstwhile "friends" had overnight turned into impassive onlookers. It was not easy for her to live with constant police surveillance and the dreadful thought of an impending disaster to any member of our small family. She braved many a danger to her person including a physical assault by a police culprit who used to trail her. She suffered several cuts and bruises on her arms and legs. She displayed incredible courage, wisdom, and self-affirmation in that totally hostile environment that gripped her in a sudden misfortune. A month before my return to the real world, she sent Aisha and Omran to Paris with her elder brother, who came from France to see us. For one month she lived all alone, forcibly deprived of the company of her husband and young children.
It is, therefore, some comfort to know that the wives of the new ISA detainees are acting in unison to secure the release of their loved ones. It is encouraging to see that they have established an effective network not only among themselves but with the several NGOs active for the cause of human rights in Malaysia. Nadia, unfortunately, had none of these advantages. And unlike these new detainees, I had no prior knowledge of or experience with my tormentors. My legal appeal against the so-called "conviction" and "sentence" continues to be ignored by the symbiotic police and judiciary in Kuala Lumpur.
The media reports that the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has condemned the latest ISA arrests and demanded for an immediate release of the detainees come to me as a cruel joke. Having duly acknowledged to my legal counsel, Mr Manjeet Singh Dhillon, the receipt of my complaint (dated July 28, 2000) against my abduction, detention, torture and the ensuing brutality, the Commission has neither made any public statement nor advised of their stand on the issues raised. My complaint to the Commission was accompanied by a copy of my Statutory Declaration, the first of its kind in Malaysian history, fully documenting the sequence of events. I am, therefore, inclined to believe that Suhakam's recent statement is nothing more than a PR gimmick for the benefit of the Mahathir government. Mr Abdallah Badawi, Mahathir's deputy, unwittingly confirmed that marriage of convenien,ce when he stated that he was expecting this sort of statement from the Commission.
In the face of dark clouds over Malaysia where violation of human rights is a daily occurrence, we are still hoping for a change. A change towards individual liberty, freedom of speech, and freedom of peaceful assembly. We are more than ever convinced that people of Malaysia will soon join the community of nations where justice is not only respected but jealously guarded.
Dr. Munawar A. Anees, a former prisoner of conscience, is a scholar and founder of the prestigious journal Periodica Islamica.