Joint open letter to on the occasion of their meeting with Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad BADAWI, Prime Minister of Malaysia

16/07/2004
Urgent Appeal
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to

Georges W. BUSH, President of the United States of America,
Jacques CHIRAC, President of the Republic of France,
Tony BLAIR, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation in Malaysia, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) express their deepest concern over the recent evolution of human rights in Malaysia. This evolution may reveal a gap between the declarations aroused by the new authorities in favour of democracy and the reality. We thus urge you to raise human rights concerns during your meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

The FIDH and SUARAM are particularly preoccupied by the following issues, relating to :

- the Internal Security Act (ISA) and its subsequent abuses, coupled with the control of the media by the authorities,
- the critical medical situation of former deputy prime minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim, and the deterioration of the situation of human rights defenders .

Above all, the FIDH and SUARAM deplore the Government’s relentless efforts to stifle all forms of dissent in the country.

It appears that the repression (which encompasses not only opposition parties but also movements within civil society that promote a more democratic agenda and the realization of human rights in the country) takes on a dual form: on the one hand, the purposeful use of a wide array of draconian legislation - first and foremost the Internal Security Act (ISA) - to arrest targeted individuals perceived as imperilling the authorities; on the other hand, the inculcation of a culture of fear through various means of pressure, intimidation and coercion, which in turn has led to widespread self-censorship. The authorities thus use the strategy of a boa constrictor, through a slow strangulation of all spaces of free and critical discourse: the danger of such a system is that the asphyxiation is never sudden, nor is it immediately visible - hence its efficiency. The authorities have over the years created an atmosphere, both within the political arena and within civil society, in which fundamental freedoms are considered as privileges and not rights, and in which the possibilities to advocate for human rights are severely curtailed.

The media are increasingly being controlled by authorities in order to influence public opinion. The Press is muzzled and cannot publicly criticize the Malaysian government. English and Malay-language press have uncritical coverage of government officials and policies while providing limited and selective coverage to political views of the opposition. Issues deemed embarrassing or "prejudicial to national interests" are not covered. Several issues of foreign independent magazines were blocked, including from the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Economist.

As an illustration, the independent newspaper Malaysiakin.com, which so far has been spared government censorship, was subjected in 2003 to a police investigation under the 1948 Sedition Act, for freely circulating articles on the Internet. This Act is part of the legislative repressive arsenal developed by the authorities for restricting fundamental freedoms - in the name of national security. Publicly vilified for their supposedly defamatory articles on Malaysia, journalists working for the newspaper are regularly subjected to threats and persecution.

On the plea of a being necessary measure in the "war on terror", the Internal Security Act (ISA) is in fact a political weapon against opposition, which provisions continuously entail abuses of power. It allows a form of administrative detention that permits the government to detain individuals without charge or trial, nor the most fundamental due process rights. More than a hundred people are now detained under this arbitrary law. The ISA violates the detainee’s rights to access to legal counsel, family visits and an open trial and is often used to suppress the person’s rights of expression and to demonstration. Detainees under the ISA are reportedly often subjected to various forms of torture, including physical assault, sleep deprivation, round-the-clock interrogation, threats of bodily harm to family members, including detainees’ children, which are allegedly often used to extract false signed confessions from them. Furthermore, ISA detainees are often held in secret locations.

In particular, the FIDH and SUARAM notice that Section 18 of the ISA has been increasingly invoked by the Special Branch (police intelligence services) to transfer detainees out of the Kamunting detention camp in order to conduct interrogation, brainwash, turnover, intelligent gatherings on the detainees at the whim and fancies of the Special Branch. More than often, threats are also imposed on the detainees and the detention period at Police Remand Center (PRC) is used as a form of punishment on detainees.

On 11 June 2004, one day prior to the expiry date of their detention orders, 11 ISA detainees were unusually ordered to be transferred from the Kamunting detention camp to an unknown PRC. The PRC have been known for its notorious conditions. Based on the horrendous and traumatic experiences of the detainees during their first 60 days of ISA detention at PRC, the transfer to PRC undoubtedly has a severe chilling effect on the detainees as they prepared for the worse to happen to them at PRC.

On 12 June 2004, all the eight ISA detainees were served an extension of detention order to another two years at the PRC, citing that they still posed a threat to national security.

It was on this footing that the Special Branch started their brainwashing and turnover session on the detainees. On 13 June 2004, detainees were given a briefing by an officer on the organisational structure of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), their relationship with al-Qaeda and were told that all bombings in Indonesia are connected to JI. While the detainees have expressed no knowledge about JI, they believed the session was to brainwash them subconsciously so that they would admit that they are part of JI as alleged by the government.

The officer reportedly promised liberation in exchange of detainees’ collaboration to gather information. These promises came with threats in a package. For instance, an officer said any pressure on the government would interfere in the process of early release of the detainees. He cited the complaints of torture during the first 60 days of ISA detention by the detainees and likened it with the torture at Abu Gharib prison in Iraq. The Special Branch threatened the detainees to stop all activities that put pressure on the government if the detainees wish to be released soon. On 17 June 2004, the commander of the so called "rehabilitation" program again reminded the detainees not to make any report on torture or launch hunger strike actions which will defame the government and may jeopardize their release chances. On the same day, the program coordinator also threatened the detainees not to tell their wives anything or make reports to NGOs, SUHAKAM (the national Human Rights Commission) or their lawyers.

At the end of the "rehabilitation" program on 17 June 2004, the detainees were given sports shoes, badminton rackets, calculators, ‘sarung’ and on top of it, cash of RM100. It is a regulation in any detention places that no detainee would be allowed to keep cash money. By giving out RM100 to these ISA detainees, the relevant authorities has not only violated their own regulation, but also committed bribery in their desperate attempt to keep the detainees’ mouth shut.

Eventually, it must be noted that prior to the transfer of these 11 detainees on 11 June 2004, there were also 8 KMM detainees transferred from the Kamunting detention camp to PRC at Kuala Lumpur, after they ended their 20-day hunger strike from 1 - 19 March 2004. After coming back from the Kuala Lumpur PRC, the 8 KMM detainees sent a letter to their lawyers stating that they have decided to pull out from the habeas corpus application that they have agreed to file earlier.

Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy primer minister of Malaysia, is a political prisoner since September 1999. Throughout his detention Anwar has faced systematic obstruction and delay by the present authorities in providing him with medical care, despite the fact that his present problems are largely the result of the assault on him by the Inspector General of Police in a holding cell on the night of his arrest.
Very recently, his condition has further deteriorated. He is in crucial need of medical surgery, or may risk permanent paralysis. However, since 2001, Anwar has been demanding the right to go to Germany for Endoscopic Microsurgery. Options in Malaysia are more risky, and Anwar has good reason to fear political interference should he undergo the operation in a local government hospital. SUHAKAM (Malaysian Human Rights Commission) issued a statement in May 2001, that there is no legal impediment to prevent Anwar from having the treatment of his choice and he should be allowed to go to Germany. However, this has been ignored by the government, which has reiterated its opinion that Anwar, as a prisoner, has no right to seek treatment overseas, and that he will only be allowed to undergo an operation in Malaysia. The government seems determined to keep the charismatic Anwar out of public view.

On 22 July 2004, the Malaysian Federal Court will deliver its verdict on Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal on the sodomy conviction and sentence of 9 years’ imprisonment. The hearing represents Anwar’s final opportunity for judicial redress, but it seems that Anwar has not been offered fair trial conditions and that judges have regularly showed their bias.

Malaysian human rights defenders are still subjected to various forms of repression, in violation of the 1998 UN General Assembly Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Mrs Irene Fernandez, Director of the organisation Tenaganita, an NGO working with migrant women, was sued by the authorities in 1995 for "publishing false information with malovent intentions" under Section 8A of the Printing, Presses and Publications Act following the publication of a report entitled "Memorandum on abuses, acts of torture and inhuman treatment towards migrant workers in detention camps", based on Mrs Fernandez’s interview with over 300 migrant workers. This trial is still under process, in appeal, and the High Court has not rendered its decision yet. It is known as the longest trial so far in the history of Malaysia. Meanwhile, Mrs Fernandez is deprived of the most fundamental fair trial rights, and is prevented from exercising her human rights defending activities. In November 2003, the Malaysian Magistrates Court, without adequate explanation, denied Mrs Fernandez right to travel to important human rights and HIV/AIDS meetings in the US and Canada, including a meeting with the UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Carter Center.

The FIDH and SUARAM highlight the necessity for the European leaders to urge Malaysian authorities to fulfil their international obligations in the field of human rights. They hope that the United States of America, France and the United Kingdom will be consistent with their deep commitments to human rights and will exert political and diplomatic pressure on Malaysia for respecting and guaranteeing the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country, starting with the urgent issues raised in the present letter.

Sidiki Kaba President of the FIDH

Cynthia Gabriel Executive director of Suaram

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