Coercive Legalism Strengthened in the 1990s

The government under Mahathir right through the 1990s continued its use of what may be termed "coercive legalism", that is using legally constituted laws and amendments to laws to ensure authoritarian rule over citizens often without the possibility of legal recourse, such as court action on the part of the aggrieved party or parties. For example, the ISA has continued to be used in two other major developments occurring in the 1990s.

First were the arrests of 14 members of the Al-Arqam movement in 1996 and the November 1997 detention of 10 male Muslims on the alleged grounds of practising Shia Islam. The 14 Al-Arqam members were detained for purportedly attempting to revive the movement that was banned in 1994. In 1994, the founder of the movement Ashaari Mohamed, his wife and several leaders were detained. In a much-publicised television "confession", Ashaari admitted to deviationist teachings and agreed to stop the movement.

Custodial Violence and Abuses under the ISA, 1987

It seems to have almost become routine that when a political detainee is kept under 60 days of remand without trial under the ISA until a detention order is issued, he or she will be inevitably subject to psychological abuse or physical violence or both. There have been many reports and affidavits filed by ISA detainees to this effect. The variation of treatment can however be quite wide. Thus, according to the AI report on Operation Lalang detainees:

"The use of alternating interrogation techniques, apparently designed to humiliate and frighten the detainees, wear their defences down, identify their weaknesses and destabilise them both psychologically and physically, was applied to the detainees with varying degrees of intensity.

In some instances they were apparently subjected to a barrage of verbal abuse, humiliation and threats against their person or their spouses by up to seven Special Branch officers at one time. They were reportedly made to stand barefoot in their prison clothes at the centre of a circle while interrogators fired rapid questions, which they were required to answer while facing the questioner...

Other detainees were reportedly made to do strenuous physical exercises for long periods of time. These involved standing on one leg or doing press-ups until they collapsed whereupon he would be kicked by the interrogating officers and made to repeat an exercise....

Others were stripped naked during the interrogation process or were forced to crawl on the floor, collect cigarette butts intentionally scattered there and to perform humiliating acts...

Several detainees were said to have been beaten with sticks or rolled up newspapers, and slapped, punch or pulled by the hair by their interrogating officers...

In at least one instance the detainee was apparently stripped naked, whereupon one of the officers lit the end of a bundle of rolled-up newspapers and threatened to burn his genitals."

Amnesty International, 1988:15-19.

As for the Shia cases, they were detained allegedly for "activities prejudicial to national unity and Muslim unity". According to Suaram, " Six of the Shia detainees were released by early December [1998] and two of those released were imposed restricted residence orders which curtail their movement and their right to freedom of association and expression. The remaining detainee Che Kamarulzaman remained in detention and was declared by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience." (Suaram, 1999: 9).

The most high profile political arrests under the ISA in recent times came in tandem with events surrounding the "Anwar Ibrahim affair". The former Deputy Prime Minister was himself arrested initially under the ISA where he received the infamous black eye delivered by none other than the erstwhile Inspector General of Police, Rahim Noor, according to findings by a Royal Commission of Inquiry. Twenty-nine persons were arrested under the ISA for "Reformasi"- related activities linked to support for Anwar after he was sacked as Deputy Prime Minister by Mahathir on 2 September 1998. For a while, Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Anwar and now MP and leader of the new Parti KeADILan Nasional (National Justice Party) was also under an ISA restriction order to prevent her from speaking in public. That order was subsequently lifted. By the end of 1998, Suaram received 219 names of persons still detained under the ISA, most of which were for cases of forging passports and identity cards (Suaram, 1999:9).

Anwar Ibrahim - the Black Eye Incident

blackeye Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was arrested under the ISA on 20 September 1998. Nine days later he was brought to court after being held incommunicado, with bruises and a black eye. He was allowed to tell the court that just hours after he was brought to the Bukit Aman police headquarters, he was handcuffed and blindfolded and subsequently assaulted by an unidentified police officer until he lost consciousness. He was not allowed access to doctors until the fifth day of his detention.

Anwar said: "I was boxed very hard on my lower jaw and left eye. I was also boxed on the right of my head and then hit on the left side of my neck very hard. I was then slapped very hard, left and right until blood came out from my nose and my lips cracked. I was half conscious and the police helped me clean up the nose and lips."

Police investigations could not reveal the assailant despite having two months to do the job. Later during the Royal Commission of Inquiry, Anwar testified that while in the cell, he felt a very strong punch on the left side of his forehead, then was forcibly pulled up before a series of blows were rained on him, all around the neck, face and ear.

A doctor told the Commission that the injuries were not self-inflicted as suggested earlier by Prime Minister Mahathir but were injuries at potentially fatal places. The Inspector General of Police, the highest police officer in the country, Abdul Rahim Noor, later admitted to the Royal Commission of Inquiry that he had assaulted Anwar.

Suaram, 1999:13.