I’m prepared to die for my freedom, says Mustawan Ahbab. 'If I’m guilty, bring me to the court, don’t detain me without trial'.
“Can you please come visit us every day?” asked Anthony, the Sri Lankan detainee when my colleague and I visited him and eight other ISA detainees on May 25, 2012. As he was talking to us, he kept looking at his family photos and his medical report. I just couldn’t say no for an answer, as he was looking at my colleague and I, hopeful.
As we all rejoiced when Prime Minster Najib Tun Razak announced on the eve of Malaysia Day last year that the draconian ISA would be abolished, let’s not forget there are 45 people who are still languishing in the Kamunting Camp without trial.
Voiceless as they continue to be held under lock and key, denied the right to defend themselves in the court of law.
Some of them launched a hunger strike recently to demand their immediate release. The hunger strike went on for eight days but was called off when Suhakam intervened and agreed to talk to the Home Minister to demand their release.
They were elated when we informed them that the news on their hunger strike was out and how conscientious Malaysians were outraged at the continued injustice perpetrated on them. They know they are not alone fighting for their rights to be free.
“I’m prepared to die for my freedom”, said Mustawan Ahbab. “If I’m guilty, bring me to the court, don’t detain me without trial”.
Some of them were held in isolation when they were on hunger strike. They were put in a small room where they had to sleep on the floor. “There was no fan in the room”, said Anthony. The price they had to pay for demanding what is rightfully theirs.
As the clock was ticking, the detainees kept on relating their stories to us, under the watchful eye of a camp warden. They looked very cautious. When the warden stepped out of the room, they quickly told us how they were beaten up while they were being interrogated in Bukit Aman. They were forced to sign a confession and they were not allowed to read the contents.
Mohd Nazri, a school teacher from Tawau told us how the Advisory Board Hearing was nothing but a sham. Every time there is a hearing to review the detention, the police would tell all detainees not to engage lawyers as lawyers would charge RM10,000.00 legal fees. “We had no choice but to tell the police that we would not engage lawyers”, said Mohd Nazri.
The Advisory Board once refrained Mohd Nazri from speaking when he tried to explain why his detention should not be extended. He was told that he was not in the position to present his case as he was not a lawyer and the Advisory Board was not a court of law. His frustration with the failing system was obvious on his face.
Making mockery of the law
Any opportunity for them to get their voices heard before the Advisory Board more often than not would be crushed to pieces. Their plea for their detention not to be extended would be dismissed on grounds not known to them.
When the torture note that was smuggled out of the camp emerged in the news, the police’s response was not unexpected, dismissing the allegation as baseless and malicious since details of torture have never been revealed to the Advisory Board.
It beggars belief that the authorities expect the truth to be told when the detainees’ hands are tied and their lips are sealed against their will.
It makes mockery of the rule of law that this gross injustice continues to be perpetrated by those in power on human beings who are born free.
The Home Minister said the hunger strike launched by the detainees was a diversion to the PM’s transformation plan. His distorted logic is utterly mind boggling.
This fight for the abolition of ISA has been one of the longest and arduous struggles for the Malaysian people to give meaning to the word “freedom”. Countless souls have become victims of this draconian law that has been used to silence dissent and suppress the truth under the pretext of national security.
The Home Minister further said that we Malaysians should not pick on individual cases and we should look at the bigger picture instead.
How can we be free knowing that there are souls still being locked up? How can be we be free knowing that their dignity as human beings is being robbed of mercilessly? How can we be free knowing that their families and friends are tormented, counting the days when will they be set free?
Asking these questions, in defiance of being subjected to this draconian piece of legislation has landed many in Kamunting Detention Camp. And ironically, these same questions have also set us free, free to keep on fighting to end this travesty.
Fadiah Nadwa Fikri is a lawyer from Lawyers For Liberty (LFL).