A furor erupted yesterday after a Malaysian woman identified herself as the mystery figure in a police abuse scandal thought to involve a Chinese national that triggered protests from Beijing.
An inquiry into the case heard testimony on Tuesday from a 22-year-old ethnic Malay who said she was the woman in a highly publicized video clip of a woman who was stripped and forced to perform squats in police custody.
The incident, dubbed "Malaysia's Abu Ghraib" after the Iraqi jail scandal, embarrassed the government and forced the home minister to make a fence-mending trip to China.
The footage, captured on a mobile phone, emerged after several Chinese women complained to the media of being humiliated and robbed by Malaysian police officers, after they were accused of possessing fake passports.
But the woman's testimony that she was a Muslim Malaysian arrested earlier this year on drugs charges raised questions over why the China link had not been ruled out earlier.
Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang criticized the handling of the case, saying that Malaysia's national interests had been undermined and that the scandal should have been "nipped in the bud" much sooner.
"It is ridiculous if a commission of inquiry has to be established to ascertain the nationality of the woman when such information is in the hands of the police, which should have been disclosed to parliament at the first available opportunity," he told reporters.
But he said the central issue was why police subjected any person to the humiliating squats procedure, apparently designed to reveal objects hidden in bodily cavities.
"Malaysians should be angry, regardless of her race or nationality, at such treatment," he said. "The treatment is deplorable."
The twist has reportedly triggered rumors that the woman, who appeared stockier than the fair-skinned woman in the video, was involved in a cover-up.
"There is already a suggestion that the woman who appeared before the commission yesterday may not be the woman in the video clip at all, as the police are involved in a massive cover-up," a columnist in the New Straits Times said yesterday.