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Jeyakumar: Detention was horrible

 | August 11, 2011

The PSM leader recalls his 28-day ordeal and speaks about his party’s plans for the next election and its relationship with Pakatan Rakyat.

INTERVIEW

KUALA LUMPUR: Despite the grassroots popularity that he and his party enjoy, Dr Michael D Jeyakumar does not want Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) to scramble for seats to contest in the coming general election.

“It is important for the opposition to be united,” he told FMT. “We do not want to split votes or cause three-cornered fights. We also don’t want to be the cause of any fights within the opposition.”

He said PSM fully supported Pakatan Rakyat when it came to fighting Barisan Nasional (BN). But he added that this did not mean it agreed with all of the opposition alliance’s policies.

“For example, when it comes to trade agreements, some opposition parties are always enthusiastic, but PSM feels we should be more discerning.”

The Sungai Siput MP also spoke about his recent 28-day incarceration at the Batu Caves detention centre, describing it as “horrible”.

“Nobody beat us up,” he clarified, “but being deprived of freedom, being unsure as to when they’d release us or allow us to see our families, not being allowed reading material, wondering who they’d arrest next… It was horrible.”

During the detention, the police allowed his family to visit him only three times, and each of those visits lasted only about 15 minutes.

Jeyakumar was one of the six detainees who became known collectively as EO6. They were arrested on June 25 with 24 other PSM members and remanded for seven days, accused of trying to wage war against the King and to revive communism.

Upon their release from remand on July 2, police rearrested the six under the Emergency Ordinance (EO), which allows for the detention of suspects for up to 60 days.

The public quickly rallied around them, making heavy use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to voice disapproval of the government action.

A shock

Jeyakumar said he and his fellow detainees were interrogated daily during their incarceration and he found the process “frustrating” because the police were apparently not interested in finding out the truth. They seemed more interested in making the detention serve as a warning to anti-BN groups, he added.

The six are now facing charges under the Internal Security Act and the Societies Act. They are accused of supporting an illegal society – Bersih 2.0 – and disseminating propaganda on its behalf.

Jeyakumar called this turn of events “quite a shock” and said the bail set – RM8,000 – was punitive, considering PSM’s lack of financial resources.

He accused the government of trying to scare the people from voicing out dissenting opinions.

“Making us a scapegoat just stemmed from wanting to repress the public,” he said. “A sensible government would have engaged us instead of using scare tactics.”

During their detention, the EO6 were separated from each other. Jeyakumar said a normal day started with fingers of light creeping through a frosted glass window high above his head.

“It was very warm,” he said.

Breakfast was a bun and teh-O. This was followed by a visit to the medical assistant, who would check his blood pressure and other vital signs.

He would then be cuffed and blindfolded and interrogated about Bersih 2.0, PSM’s funding and its alleged links to communist parties.

“They didn’t want to listen,” said Jeyakumar. “They just wanted to try and make links.”

A brief lunch of rice, vegetables and meat would follow, after which questioning would usually begin again. He was interrogated for between three and six hours a day.

Hunger strike

He found it so frustrating that he decided on a hunger strike. However, the home ministry decided to release him and the other five detainees on the second day of his fast.

The six were hailed as heroes. Arriving at the KL-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall after their release, they were met with boisterous applause and cheers from a lively crowd of PSM members and supporters brandishing banners and waving party flags.

Some chanted slogans and sang songs about unity, while others converged on the six to pass along handshakes and hugs.

“We would not have been released if it weren’t for the Malaysian people,” said Jeyakumar on that night, repeating the sentiment during his interview with FMT.

“It was a victory for the people,” he said. “They took back their power.”

He said the government decided to charge them in court not because they were guilty of anything, but because it needed to justify the 28-day detention.

Jeyakumar won his Sungai Siput seat in the last general election on a PKR ticket. He told FMT that PSM would continue to fight for the rights of the marginalised groups in Malaysia.

“We don’t need to be policymakers,” he said. “We won’t attack Rosmah (Mansor) or defend Anwar (Ibrahim). We are more about fighting for the rights of poorer Malaysians. We want to put these issues – like giving squatters grants or making tertiary education free – on the political agenda.”

He said PSM was interested in contesting only four seats in the next election – the Sungai Siput parliamentary seat and the state seats of Jelapang, Kota Damansara and Semenyih.

“Change is coming,” said Jeyakumar. “People are more connected than the government thinks, and it will be difficult for it to continue lying.”


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