(New York)—A group of detainees held under Malaysia’s draconian Internal Security Act launched a hunger strike yesterday to protest their detention for over two years without charge, Human Rights Watch said today. The Malaysian government should allow independent organizations access to monitor the well-being of the 16 men, who were arrested in 2001 on allegations of terrorist activity.
The Malaysian government claims that the 16 detainees are members of Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (Malaysian Militant Group, or KMM), a militant group that allegedly aims to establish an Islamic state in Malaysia. However, the government has not provided any evidence to support its claims, nor has it allowed any meaningful judicial review of their detention.
“The Malaysian government is responsible for the life and well-being of the detainees, and should allow independent organizations to monitor their condition,” said Sam Zarifi, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “If the government does not have the evidence to bring these men to trial, they should be released immediately.”
Suspects detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) have very limited due process rights and can be held indefinitely without adequate judicial review. Relatives of detainees held under the ISA have told Human Rights Watch that detainees are subjected to solitary confinement, threats, and mental and physical intimidation after their arrest. Some relatives have also reported seeing evidence of physical abuse.
The hunger strike is the latest tactic adopted by detainees to protest their continuing detention without charge or trial. In September, a group of 31 detainees issued a statement declaring their innocence and demanding their day in court. In January, a group of detainees issued statements alleging threats and abuse by Malaysian security officials. Lawyers for the detainees have repeatedly filed petitions with the Malaysian courts challenging the legality of their detention, but have yet to win full review of a single case by the courts. Since the beginning of the hunger strike, two men have collapsed and have been taken to a local hospital, although one of the two has since been returned to detention after receiving treatment, according to media reports.
Most of the 16 men are affiliated with Parti Islam Se Malaysia (Islamic Party of Malaysia, or PAS), a Malaysian opposition party with a religious platform. Among those detained are Nik Adli, son of the party’s spiritual leader Nik Aziz, and the party’s youth committee member Mohd Lotfi Ariffin. Malaysian and international observers have expressed concerns that their arrests may have been a politically motivated attempt by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed to connect the opposition party to Islamist militant violence.
On February 5, the 16 detainees wrote to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi demanding to be released immediately. If they were not released by March 1, the detainees said, they would go on a hunger strike. They repeated their intention to go on a hunger strike in a letter to the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) on February 17.
An additional 27 ISA detainees detained for alleged connections to Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group allegedly linked to the al-Qaeda terror network, have joined the hunger strike in solidarity. The 16 alleged Kumpulan Militan Malaysia detainees are abstaining from all food and water; the 27 alleged Jemaah Islamiyah detainees are giving up only food.
“Foreign governments have been silent about Malaysia’s misuse of the Internal Security Act to hold these people without proper judicial process,” Zarifi said. “The international community needs to let the Malaysian government know that it will not accept the ‘war on terror’ as justification for locking people up for years without any evidence of wrongdoing.”
The Malaysian government is currently holding at least 85 individuals under the ISA for alleged terrorist activity. Within the past two weeks, 13 ISA detainees have had their two-year detentions renewed by the Malaysian government without any review by the Malaysian judiciary. A total of 20 detainees have been given a second two-year detention under the ISA for alleged terrorist activity.
According to the Malaysian human rights group SUARAM, the sixteen individuals and their dates of detention are: Mohd Azian bin Abd Rahman Nazri (detained June 2001), Murad Halimuddin bin Haji Hassan (June 2001), Ahmad Tajuddin bin Abu Bakar (2 August 2001), Zainon bin Ismail (2 August 2001), Ahmad Pozi bin Deraman (2 August 2001), Solehan bin Abd Ghafar (2 August 2001), Alias bin Ngah (2 August 2001), Abu Bakar bin Che Doi (3 August 2001), Asfawani bin Abdullah (3 August 2001), Mohd Lotfi bin Ariffin (3 August 2001), Nik Adli bin Nik Abdul Aziz (4 August 2001), Mohd Rasid bin Ismail (August 2001), Mohd Zulkifli bin Mohd Zakaria (10 October 2001), Khairuddin bin Saad (10 October 2001), Mohd Zulkepli bin Mohd Isa (10 October 2001), and Mat Salleh bin Said (10 October 2001).