Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Malaysia torture verdict overturned


A Malaysian appeals court yesterday overturned a verdict that would have forced the government to pay 2.5 million ringgit (US$752,000) to a political activist who claimed he was tortured in police custody.

Abdul Malek Hussein, a supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, alleged he was beaten unconscious, stripped naked and forced to drink urine while being held without trial for nearly two months in 1998 after participating in anti-government protests.

He sued the government in 1999, demanding damages for alleged human rights violations during his detention under the Internal Security Act, or ISA, which allows authorities to indefinitely detain people considered to be security threats.

Malaysia’s High Court ruled in Abdul Malek’s favor in 2007, saying his detention was unlawful and that his allegations of assault were true, based on medical reports and contradictions in the testimony of police witnesses.

However, a three-judge panel in the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict yesterday. It rejected the abuse allegations and ordered Abdul Malek to pay the government 50,000 ringgit in legal costs, said Abdul Malek’s lawyer, Sivarasa Rasiah.

“It’s a major setback for the human rights of an ISA detainee,” Sivarasa said. “It raises some key questions about the law and the rights of an ISA detainee.”

Abdul Malek is expected to appeal the decision in the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest court.

He was arrested for leading street protests in 1998 after former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad fired his then-deputy Anwar over a political dispute. Abdul Malek was described by Amnesty International as “a prisoner of conscience” during his detention.

The High Court’s 2007 ruling was a blow to the reputation of Malaysia’s police force, which has long faced criticism over deaths of detainees that were not satisfactorily explained, violent tactics against suspects and alleged corruption.

Government authorities say they plan to amend the ISA soon to improve the treatment of detainees and their rights.

Meanwhile, Anwar described his ongoing sodomy trial as “rotten” and “malicious” after a court yesterday set fresh dates for a second round of the hearing in May.

The trial briefly opened last month before it was adjourned as Anwar’s lawyers mounted a series of unsuccessful legal manoeuvres, including bids to strike out the entire case and for access to key evidence.

The High Court scheduled the trial to continue on May 10 and will hear the case over four separate sessions up to August 30.

“The trial shouldn’t have started. This rotten charge, it’s malicious, it’s trumped-up, it shouldn’t have started in the first place,” Anwar told reporters outside the court.

“This is wasting public resources and people’s time. This is fitting into their political game using all the instruments of government,” he said.

Anwar was sacked in 1998 and convicted on sodomy and corruption charges but was released in 2004 after the sexual misconduct count was overturned, allowing him to make a comeback to politics as the leader of a reinvigorated opposition.

The married father-of-six could be jailed for up to 20 years if convicted of illicit sexual relations with Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a male former aide.

Anwar’s lawyers said the trial will resume with the cross-examination of Saiful, who has testified in court that Anwar propositioned him for sex shortly after he came to an apartment in 2008 to deliver a document.

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