May 18, 2004

Malaysian Officials Deny Claims of Abuse

By JASBANT SINGH
Associated Press Writer

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Government ministers on Monday denied claims by suspected Islamic extremists that they were routinely abused by Malaysian police interrogators.
Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said comparisons of the treatment of Malaysian detainees to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison would be "very naughty."
Noh Omar, deputy security minister, said he met with detainees a few weeks ago and that no prisoner claimed being abused.
The charges of abuse were made by detainees in a human rights document obtained last week by The Associated Press that provides the most detailed accounts of alleged abuses since Malaysia began rounding up suspected terrorists nearly three years ago.
The government is holding about 100 people at a prison camp under security laws that allow indefinite detention without trial. About 70 of those are alleged Islamic militants, many of them suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a group linked to al-Qaida and blamed for attacks that have killed hundreds of people in Southeast Asia.
Security officials previously said interrogations of the suspects gained information about plots to bomb U.S. and other Western interests in neighboring Singapore and about Malaysia's role as a meeting point for senior al-Qaida operatives involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Thirty-one of the detainees signed a complaint that was lodged with the government's Human Rights Commission. They listed 57 types of abuse they claimed to have been subjected to.
Noh disputed the accounts. He said that during a visit to the prison camp April 29, he spoke to every inmate and heard no complaints.
"None of them alleged to me that they were mistreated," Noh told reporters. "They only said they have repented and they want to be released soon to reunited with their families."
He said he would meet with international human rights activists if they wish. The New York-based Human Rights Watch is planning to issue a report on the treatment of Malaysian detainees Wednesday.
"I think these accusations are just to smear our country's name," Noh said. "They want to portray our situation like Iraq. Just because we have a camp where we hold detainees without trial, they think our methods are the same as U.S. methods."
The allegations were compiled by independent local activists from inmate complaints and handed to the Human Rights Commission in January. The panel said it did not investigate and passed the document to police officials, who have repeatedly denied condoning mistreatment of prisoners.
Unlike the scandal involving abuses at U.S. detention camps in Iraq, there is no independent corroboration, such as photographs or testimony from non-detainee witnesses.
The complaints range from verbal attacks and denial of religious freedoms to long periods of solitary confinement and physical abuse and humiliation.
Detainees charged they were routinely slapped, kicked and spat on during interrogations. One said his beard was set afire. Some said they were forced to perform demeaning tasks such as massaging interrogators' feet.
Lim Kit Siang, leader of the opposition in Parliament, said Monday that the government should conduct a thorough investigation.
"The Malaysian government has rightfully taken a stand condemning the abuse, torture and humiliation of Iraqis," Lim said. "We should also make sure that there is no such mistreatment of our own prisoners in Malaysia."
EARLIER REPORT:
May 16, 2004

Malaysia Militant Suspects Claim Abuse

By JASBANT SINGH
Associated Press Writer

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Alleged members of an al-Qaida-linked extremist group jailed in Malaysia were routinely stripped naked, slapped, kicked and subjected to sexual abuse by police interrogators, according to a human rights document obtained by The Associated Press.
Security officials have said the questioning produced information about plots by Jemaah Islamiyah to bomb U.S. and other Western interests in Singapore and other extremist operations in Southeast Asia. Information also was gained about Malaysia's role as a meeting point for senior al-Qaida operatives involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.
Malaysia routinely shares intelligence about Jemaah Islamiyah with Washington and in 2002 let the FBI question a key al-Qaida suspect at a prison camp. There has been no allegation the FBI was involved in any abuses in Malaysia, although some rights activists have questioned whether the U.S. government turns a blind eye to mistreatment of terror suspects by its allies in exchange for information.
The abuse allegations are contained in a report seen by The Associated Press this week. The report was compiled by the government's human rights commission from prisoner complaints relayed by lawyers and rights activists. The commission said it did not investigate the claims and only forwarded the document to police officials, who have repeatedly denied condoning mistreatment of prisoners.
Unlike the scandal involving abuses at U.S. detention camps in Iraq, there is no independent corroboration of the Malaysian charges such as photographs or testimony from non-detainee witnesses.
The activist group Human Rights Watch says it will release a report Wednesday on abuses of Malaysian terrorism suspects.
Malaysia is holding about 100 people at the Kamunting prison camp under a security law that allows indefinite detention without trial. About 70 of those are alleged Islamic militants, many of them suspected members of Jemaah Islamiyah.
Malaysian officials allege the suspects threatened national security by vowing to wage holy war to create an Islamic super state in Southeast Asia. Some are accused of involvement in plots to bomb targets in neighboring Singapore. The bomb plots allegedly were masterminded by a militant known as Hambali, an Indonesian suspected of leadership roles in both al-Qaida and Jemaah Islamiyah and blamed for attacks that have killed more than 200 people the past four years.
AP previously reported claims of abuse by some Islamic militant suspects detained in Malaysia, but the document obtained this week gives a broader and more detailed look at the alleged mistreatment.
Thirty-one of the detainees signed a complaint that was lodged with the government's Malaysian Human Rights Commission in January. The prisoners list 57 types of abuse they claim to have been subjected to after their arrests. Some detainees produced sketches of mistreatment they allegedly suffered.
The complaints range from verbal attacks and denial of religious freedoms to long periods of solitary confinement and physical abuse and humiliation.
"I was forced to strip ... and a chief inspector called his friends into the room to watch me, then they all laughed at me," one detainee, Sulaiman Suramin, wrote in a letter that accompanied the complaint. "I was forced to masturbate," he wrote. "They threatened to pull out my fingernails if I refused."
At least once, Sulaiman wrote, he was forced to stand on one leg with one arm extended for 20 minutes while interrogators peppered him with questions.
"Another time, I was forced to lift a dustbin that had a lot of cigarette ash and other rubbish. I was then ordered to put my head into the dustbin and sniff the ash and say 'I am stupid' many times," he said.
Other detainees charge they were routinely slapped, kicked and spat on during interrogations. One said his beard was set afire. Some said they were forced to perform demeaning tasks such as massaging interrogators' feet. Police threatened to arrest their wives if they did not provide information, the prisoners allege.
Several detainees claim they were forced to sleep on plywood planks and denied pillows or mattresses.
A spokesman for the national police, Jamshah Mustapa, said Friday that he had not seen the commission's document.
"But if there are such complaints lodged with us, we will investigate," Jamshah said. "We do not condone this kind of thing. It is unethical. It is also not effective."
The head of the commission, Hamdan Adnan, confirmed the report obtained by AP was the document filed with the commission. He said it was forwarded to police months ago, but "we don't know what happened to it."
Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country of 25 million people, has been a staunch critic of the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But its advocacy of a moderate version of Islam and a security crackdown that helped hobble Jemaah Islamiyah has won personal praise from President Bush.
The U.S. State Department, however, noted in its annual human rights reports that the security law under which militant suspects are being held is one of several that undermine Malaysia's commitment to human rights.
All the detainees are being held on two-year orders signed by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
The orders are based on police recommendations reached after a 60-day investigation period that follows arrests, a time when suspects are denied access to families and lawyers. No suspect has ever been charged in court, and the complaint document claims the police information in the detention orders was fabricated.
Among the complainants is Yazid Sufaat, a former Malaysian army captain accused of helping top al-Qaida operatives - including two Sept. 11 hijackers - when they visited Malaysia in 2000. He is alleged to be a close associate of Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin.
Yazid charges he was confined to a small cell and barred from reciting the Quran for three weeks. He said he also was forced to pray wearing short pants, which goes against Islamic norms.
A U.S.-trained chemical engineer, Yazid was arrested in December 2001 as he returned from Afghanistan, where officials allege he was working on a fledgling chemical weapons program for Osama bin Laden. He was briefly interrogated by FBI agents in 2002 who reportedly found him to be untruthful and uncooperative.


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