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South-East Asia

Letter to Malaysian PM alleges torture of Achehnese refugees in Malaysian ‘immigration depots’

Our Special Correspondent

Achehnese refugees in Malaysia, who have fled Indonesia because of persecution by the regime, are subjected to torture in several ‘immigration depots’ in which they are held, says a refugee committee based in Malaysia. And although the estimated 400 detainees are political refugees, almost all of them activists of the National Liberation Front of Acheh Sumatra, they are incarcerated together with illegal immigrants - denied the medical care many of them need.

The Achehnese Refugee Committee in Malaysia (ARCM), in a letter to the Malaysian authorities - an English translation of which has been obtained by Crescent International - details the conditions in the camps, giving instances of torture and the names of detainees who undergo both physical and mental suffering as a result.

The ARCM addresses its concerns to deputy minister for internal affairs Tajul Rosli Ghazali - the minister being none other than prime minister Mahathir Muhammad, who gets a copy of the letter - asking for intervention and for an end to the outrage. But the gingerly and extremely respectful tone of the letter suggests that the Malaysian worthies must be a prickly lot and that the committee does not expect miracles.

The letter, for instance, says: ‘Before we explain about the present conditions of... detainees at these immigration depots, allow us to express our esteem and gratitude to the Malaysian government for not repatriating these Achehnese war refugees who risk immediate execution.’ But it then describes two bloody attempts made in December to deport them in which some died and many were injured.

Some of those injured still continue to be held in immigration depots, and are denied the medical care they need so desperately.

The first botched attempt occurred at the Juru Immigration Depot in Penang on December 4, 1996, the day after a visit to the depot by an Indonesian consulate official. After being photographed, 16 of the Achehnese activists were forcibly taken on board a ship bound for the Indonesian port of Balawan (Sumatra). Police used tear-gas and unbridled physical assaults to force them on board.

But the activists, convinced that certain death awaited them at the other end, mutinied, threatening to sink the vessel if it failed to turn back. Afraid for the safety of the other passengers, the ship’s captain turned back, delivering the activists to the police who returned them to their Juru depot.

‘By then many of the activists were already severely wounded in the head, legs, arms, back and rest of the body,’ the letter says. ‘In fact, the fate of Muhammad Nasir bin Adam after this tragic event is a mystery. Nobody knows his whereabouts and whether he is still alive or dead.’

Zulkifli bin Abdurahman, born September 1, 1971, was one of those who received head injuries at the Juru depot, where he is now seriously ill. Mentally ill, he should be receiving appropriate care instead of languishing in a camp meant for illegal immigrants.

The second bloody attempt at deporting the Achehnese activists took place on December 24 at the Langkap Immigration Depot. But the overzealous 200 Federal Reserve Unit policemen deployed to carry out the operation caused a serious incident and the 53 activists to be deported were divided into three groups, with some sent to Semenyih Immigraion Depot, a couple to Macap Umboo Immigration Depot and the rest to Lengeng Immigration Depot.

Abdulkarim bin Muhammad Ali, born May 2, 1959, was one of the victims of police violence during the attempt. He was declared dead on February 4 at the Malacca General Hospital. A post-mortem affidavit issued by the hospital showed ‘the cause of death was pulmonary ambolism (bleeding of the lungs) due to severe torture.’

The ARCM estimates the number of Achehnese refugees detained in the depots in the last two years to be 400, but says that their number is increasing by the day. They are subjected to both mental and physical suffering, including daily beatings and the withholding of badly needed medical care.

For instance, Muhammad Isa bin Hasan, born June 16, 1952, was taken mentally ill on July 10, 1997. He was taken to Seremban General Hospital after he had been diagnosed as suffering from a form of meningitis. But he was sent back to the depot before recovering fully. According to Dr Azizah, one of the doctors in charge, this form of illness is aggravated by filthy surroundings, such as those prevalent in the depots.

Sometimes they are beaten up for no reason at all as 22-year old Hanafiah bin Ismail, in Juru depot, discovered to his cost on April 10. He was summoned out of his cell by corporal Adnan (police-badge number 83390), who started to beat him up mercilessly as soon as he came out. According to the ARCM, Hanafiah is now almost an invalid. He was never given medical treatment.

The mentality of the depot guards and the deference doctors show to them were in evidence on August 4, when two seriously ill activists in Semneyih Depot were taken by two policemen to the Semenyih Clinic. The doctor on duty was so shocked by their condition that he asked them why they had to wait so long before seeking medical help. But the policemen interrupted shouting that the two were communists who were better left to die. Both were taken back to the depot untreated.

These are only a few examples picked at random. The list given in the ARCM letter to the Malaysian officials is longer and quite meticulous. But will those officials listen and order, as requested, an end to the torture daily visited on fellow Muslims?

Muslimedia: October 1-15, 1997

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 15

Jumada' al-Ula' 29, 14181997-10-01

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