Hunger strike by political detainees

During the last Budget session three months ago, I had called for a Commission of Inquiry into the hunger-strike conduction by political detainees at Batu Gajah and Taiping detention camp.

At that time, we were not in position of the full facts. On February 16, 1974, thanks to the Minister of Home Affairs, I visited the Batu Gajah detention camp and met representative of the political detainees.

From the accounts which they told me about the circumstances causing the 47-day hunger by over 200 political detainees from 29th Dec. 1973 to Feb. 12, 1974, the events during the strike, I am more than convinced that there is a prima facie case warranting a commission of inquiry into allegations of physical violence and atrocities perpetrated on the detainees by warders and FRU men.

This is what I was told by the detainees whom I met in Batu Gajah detention camp, in the presence of two senior detainee at Taiping detention camp, Wong Sui Sang, from Yong Peng, Johore.

Since his detention, Wong Sui Sang has rheumatic pains in the various parts of the body. As a result of treatment, he corrected the side effect of drugs used for curing rheumatic pains: tinnitus, a symptom of continuously hearing ringing sound in the ears. As a result of poor medical care and bad living conditions in the detention camp, this condition deteriorated.

To the Batu Gajah detainees, Wong Sui Sang committed suicide as a final protest against the unsatisfactory living and medical conditions in the Kamunting Camp in Taiping, and he did hoping that his death would lead to improvement in the camp conditions. He left behind a testament.

The confrontation between the prison officials and the detainees arose when the detainees attempted, and failed, to see the superintendent of the camp to find put the real reason for the death of Wong Sui Sang and for permission to make arrangements to send condolence telegram and money to the deceased’s family.

The detainees were restless, and the Federal Reserve Unit were summoned who threw tear gas canisters and fell upon the detainees, assaulting and beating them up with great brutality.

In this first assault, many were severely injured, and some six or seven detainees were hospitalised with severe head and body injuries. Among those hospitalized were Lee Ban Chiang from Muar, Yap Bee Hui from Penang, received nine stitches, and Lim Choon Hwa.

The detainees were locked into their individual cells, and according to them, these physical assaults and brutalities were continued in the individual cells. In protest, the detainees started a hunger strike.

I have been told that during this period, the detainees were let out in twos or threes to take their baths, and when they were late or slow, they would be kicked, assaulted and beaten up, sometimes by the use of batons which are stabbed into their abdomen, ribs, kidneys or other sensitive parts.

One particular shocking episode concerned the transfer of political detainees at Taiping detention camp to Batu Gajah detention camp after the Taiping political detainees had launched a sympathy hunger-strike on 13th January 1974 to support the Batu Gajah detainees.

There was no incident during the trip from the Taiping camp to Batu Gajah detention camp. On arrival at Batu Gajah detention camp, the Taiping political detainees had to enter one by one, separated by some distance, into the camp, The detainees form Taiping told me that they had to file through two lines, on one side formed by FRU men and the other by wardens, who beat them with batons, kicked them and assaulted them with aluminum cups as they went through. The Taiping detainees suffered head injuries, back injuries and other bodily pains.

This was about 1 p.m. on 14th January 1074. At about 2 p.m., the Taiping detainees were let out in twos and threes from their individual cells to take their bath, and in the process, they were again beaten up. The FRU men also went into the cells to beat up the detainees. They would order the detainees to take off their clothes and kicked them.

That whole afternoon, the detainees confined at the adjoining blocks could hear sounds of beating and cries of pain.

I have been given some specific instances of police brutality and manhandling. Thus, in the case of Lim Joo, when he was going to bathe, he was beaten up by two wardens with batons stuck into his stomach. For the next five or six days, he passed out blood. I have been given the number of the two wardens concerned, which can furnish to the Minister of Home Affairs, as I have already informed him by letter that I have these particulars, if he is interested.

Others who were badly hurt as a result of the daily assaults were Chao Bee Poh of Kedah and Goh Sao Nien of Penang. But in the majority of cases, when the FRU men or warders were committing physical violence or manhandling on the detainees, they removed their number badges to avoid identification.

On February 5, the 38th day of the hunger strike, one Lim Yoke Wan of B block, who was the last to come out to bathe that day, was assaulted severely by two officers and two warders at about 3.37 p.m. the detainees have given me the names of the two officers concerned.

On February 6, Goh Siew Peng, who had been sent to hospital earlier after severe beatings, was again assaulted by two officers and warders and lost consciousness. This was his fourth assault, and he was reduced to a critical stage. One detainee who saw Goh in hospital saw Goh could not talk, and the hospital authorities, convinced that Goh would not live ig he was again assaulted, refused to let him return to the camp.

Because the FRU and wardens chose sensitive parts, like kidney, ribs, stomachs, for their targets of brutality and assaults, many detainees suffered severe internal wounds and internal haemorrhage. A number are still having difficulties in urination. Among those who were critically injured were Lee Ah Ming from Pontian, Tan Boon Siong of Kedah and Tay Chee of Segamat.

One of the detainees from Muar have been sent to Tanjong Rambutan mental hospital as a result of the treatment he received during the 47-day hunger strike.

Whatever explanations the minister of Home Affairs may give to exonerate his officers, there is clearly an irrebuttable case for a public inquiry headed by a High Court judge to go into these very serious and specific allegations of police atrocities in the detention camps.

National and international opinion, especially the Amnesty International, were shocked by the reign of terror and atrocities in the detention camps during that period.

Unless there is a public inquiry to ascertain the true facts of the 47-day hunger strike, and punish these officers and personal guilty of atrocities, this will remain a great scandal and shame for Malaysia, for the Ministry of Home Affairs, and even more so, to the record of the Hon’ble Minister of Home Affairs, Tan Sri Ghazalie Shafie.

I am not suggesting that the Minister is personally responsible for these atrocities, but as Minister, concerned, he should not be a party to them which he is if he refuses to order a public inquiry to bring to book those responsible for such heinous conduct.

I hope that the Minister of Home Affairs would have no reason to hush up the entire matter, as the Minister of Health, Tan Sri Lee Sick Yew, tried to do with regard to the mass hospital deaths at the Malacca Hospital from July 21 – August 20 1973 as a result of gross negligence, maladministration and incompetence of the hospital administration.

The Minister has been known for his intellectual courage and openness, and readiness always to subject himself to public scrutiny as he has nothing to hide or fear. This is probably the reason why he had no objection to my visiting the detainees in Batu Gajah detention camp, for which I commend him. However, why he said subsequently changed his mind and refused to let me go to visit Taiping detention camp is something only the Minister knows. I hope he can live ip to his reputation and order a public inquiry into the Batu Gajah affair.

DAP calls for abolition of Internal Security Act

His Majesty, in his Gracious Address, spoke of improving national security.

But we know that in the last one year, there has been an intensification of detention under the International Security Act. More and more Malaysians are disappearing from their homes and places of works, without being given an open trial.

The DAP calls on the Government to put all the ISA detainees to an open trial or release them, for this concept if detention without trial runs counter to the Rukunegara concept of the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law, if it is to be meaningful, must uphold the fundamental rights of men against arbitrary arrests, and not the rights of governments to arbitrary arrest.

Furthermore, the Rule of Law does not mean that all laws of a country are embraces by it, for if this is the definition, then it ceases to have any meaning, for South Africa’s apartheid laws, the Nazi and Fascist laws of inhumanity and genocide, are all protected by the Rule of Law in the sense that they were enacted by the rulers of the country. Laws, properly enacted by the Parliament or other legislatures, may still offend the rule of law for they offend the very essence of human freedom, dignity and justice.

(Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat in the Debate on the Royal Address on Tuesday, 16th April, 1974)