Ex-ISA detainee Abdul Malek Hussin, 51, today won a rare law suit against the government over his arrest and torture in 1998, and was awarded RM2.5 million in damages.
Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Mohd Hishamudin Mohd Yunus in a landmark decision ruled that Abdul Malek's arrest at the height of the reformasi demonstrations was unlawful and that he was assaulted under custody.
"The arrest and detention were made in bad faith under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.
"The nature of interrogation was clearly for a political purpose and had nothing to do with genuine concern for national security," Hishamudin told a packed courtroom.
Abdul Malek, was arrested under the Internal Security Act - which allows for detention without trial - on the night of Sept 25, 1998, after addressing a demonstration earlier that afternoon in Masjid Negara.
This was following the sacking and arrest of Anwar Ibrahim, who was then deputy prime minister. Abdul Malek was detained under the draconian security law for 57 days before he was released without being charged. He filed his civil suit in March 1999, naming special branch officer Borhan Daud, the then Inspector General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor and the government as respondents.
Abdul Malek had previously testified that he was stripped naked in an air-conditioned room, blindfolded during interrogation, physically assaulted up to 60 times, beaten until he was unconscious, forced to drink urine and subjected to sexual abuse.
He also testified that he saw Rahim punching him at his chin in the interrogation room when his blindfold accidentally dropped.
On the assault and battery claims, Hishamudin said he was convinced that it took place after major contradictions were found in the defendants' witnesses compared to Abdul Malek's "consistent statements".
He also opined that the public prosecutor's refusal to prosecute Abdul Malek for making false claims against Rahim implied that there was some truth in his claims.
"Both the DPP and police knew there was a lot of truth in the plaintiff's report of assault against the IGP... it shows his report was not a sham," he said.
The court also ruled that it was unconstitutional for Abdul Malek to be denied access to his lawyer.
When making his decision on the award of exemplary damages, Hishamudin made strong statements about Rahim's conduct as IGP in dealing with Abdul Malek's case.
"The despicable conduct of the then IGP Rahim Noor was shameful and a disgrace that shows a bad example to the department of men under his charge.
"The award of exemplary damages for the plaintiff is to show the abhorrence of the courts against the gross abuse of power by the police and the use of the ISA," he asserted.
Outside the courtroom, Abdul Malek was greeted with cheers from supporters including Abolish ISA Movement (GMI) chairperson Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, rights group Suaram's Yap Swee Seng and corruption watchdog Gerak chairperson Ezam Mohd Noor.
Abdul Malek's wife, Faridah Ishak, and two of their children were also present ( right).
Bring officers to book
Abdul Malek, who is currently the chairperson of polls watchdog Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (Mafrel), expressed his happiness over the court decision.
However, he said the judgment was not about the monetary compensation but bringing the police officers involved in his torture to justice.
"It's very traumatic, I tell you. It is not just enough with monetary compensation. Those who tortured me have now gone scot-free and some are promoted.
"Many officer have lied in court and gave false testimonies. Those officers involved in the torture should be investigated again. They do not deserve to serve in the force anymore," he told the press.
He said he was considering to lodge police report with police headquarters Bukit Aman to investigate the torture and abuse of power by these officers.
Abdul Malek also called for the abolition of the ISA saying that "it has no reason to exist in the country".
Lawyers R Sivarasa (photo, right) and M Mogananambal appeared for Abdul Malek while senior federal counsel Isnan Ishak represented the defendants.
It is unclear if the defendants will appeal the decision as Isnan refused to speak to the press.
Attorneys for Abdul Malek said it was the first time that a Malaysian court had awarded significant compensation to a political detainee for illegal detention and abuse.
Sivarasa said the verdict was a wake-up call for the government.
"This decision should give fresh impetus to the government to set up the long-needed Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate such abuses and this has yet to happen," he told AFP.
Groups campaigning against the ISA, which allows for indefinite detention without trial, also welcomed the move.
"This sends a message to the government that you cannot entertain such abuse and assault against individuals," said Abolish ISA chairman Syed Ibrahim.
"It is good that exemplary damages were given as you really cannot justify the Internal Security Act. Any kind of detention without trial can be opened up to abuse," he added.
In an immediate response, Amnesty International Malaysia called on the government to abolish the ISA, which it said was an "arbitrary law that creates a climate for torture and ill-treatment".
It said the court verdict "confirms that torture and ill-treatment" occurs in Malaysia under draconian internal security laws that allow for indefinite detention without trial.