Sabah ex-assistant minister sues army man, daily over maritime run-in

Ramlee Marhaban and his group after they were stopped by the ATB2 team earlier this month.

KOTA KINABALU: Former Sabah assistant finance minister Ramlee Marhaban has filed a defamation suit against Joint Task Force 2 (ATB2) commander Brig Gen Zarondin Amin and a media company following the release of a statement claiming that he was detained by ATB2 two weeks ago.

In a press conference at his office today, the former Bugaya assemblyman said he is seeking an injunction to restrain further publication of the matter by the defendants, as well as exemplary and general damages, costs, statutory interest and any relief deemed fit by the court.

The writ of summons was filed at the Kota Kinabalu High Court earlier today.

Ramlee said he respects the security forces and agencies but expressed disappointment that the ATB2 commander had decided to issue the statement despite having proof of Ramlee’s innocence.

“On that day, I together with my sons and nephews were stopped by ATB2 personnel and treated as if we were involved in illegal and unlawful activities such as terrorism and gun-running, to the point where we were made to fear for our lives and safety.

Ramlee Marhaban

“The search was conducted without any proper interrogation to determine and verify our identities despite our pleas and requests to the security personnel involved,” he said.

He said the group was then escorted to Mataking island where ATB2 personnel took their photographs and conducted further interrogations.

Here, he acknowledged his negligence in failing to carry identification documents or his licence to carry weapons.

He also said the officers in charge of Esscom on the island knew him and his relatives, and had told the ATB2 personnel so. However, the ATB2 personnel would not budge from their decision to bring the group back to Semporna.

“We complied and went back to Semporna, reaching there shortly before noon. The ATB2 personnel wanted to bring us to the police station but since I had already contacted the district police chief, he sent two of his officers to meet us, along with my file for the gun licence.”

It was only then that the ATB2 personnel admitted their mistake and released him and his group, he added.

He said he was horrified to find, later that evening, that Zarondin had issued a press release on the incident “without even giving the full account of what had happened”.

The statement, which did not name Ramlee, said ATB2 had successfully detained a group of armed men entering Malaysia’s waters in a tourist boat. The group was said to have snuck in from Sitangkai in the Philippines and headed towards Mataking island.

The statement also detailed the type of weapons and ammunition found in the boat, and said the group had been arrested and would be handed over to the police in Semporna. However, it did not mention that the men had been released.

Ramlee said most media outlets had been fair in their reports despite ATB2’s statement being a “half-truth and made with the intention to portray us as outlaws engaged in treasonous activities”.

However, he hit out at Harian Metro which he said had made it sound like he and his relatives were terrorists and cross-border criminals.

“Not only that, the ATB2 commander’s statement continued to go viral on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, together with photos of us in the security operation.

“The release of the photographs is not only against security laws, it portrayed us as criminals in a police line-up. It was totally uncalled for,” he said.

Ramlee said he had demanded an apology from the ATB2 commander and Harian Metro but that neither responded to his requests. This forced him to take action against the two parties, he added.

He also said he would be filing another suit on Friday over abuse of power and human rights issues related to the incident on Mataking island.