Mas Selamat makes wild claims about ill treatment in S’pore to human rights official

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Mas Selamat makes wild claims about ill treatment in S’pore to human rights official
He claims he was ‘drugged’ in S’pore
By Elysa Chen
September 21, 2009

HE HAD no idea the clean-shaven man standing in front of him at the detention centre in Malaysia was Singaporean terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari.

The same Mas Selamat who had escaped from the Whitley Detention Centre in Singapore in February last year.

The same Mas Selamat who was captured in April after an intense manhunt by Singapore and Malaysian authorities.

Mr Simon Sipaun, the vice-chairman of Suhakam (Malaysia’s Human Rights Commission) said: ‘I didn’t know it was him until later. He looked very normal, he was smiling at me.’

Mr Sipaun found out that he was talking to the terrorist who had made headlines only when he asked where he was from. Mr Sipaun was visiting the Kamunting Detention centre to report on conditions there on Friday.

Under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act, it is part of his organisation’s duties to visit detainees in such centres, said Mr Sipaun.

Mas Selamat made a series of wild claims which the Singapore Government has since refuted. (See MHA response on facing page.)

Speaking to The New Paper over the phone last night, Mr Sipaun said: ‘It was only when we asked him where he was from, and he said that he was from Singapore, that we realised it was the terrorist Mas Selamat Kastari we were talking to.’

Mr Sipaun, who was surprised that the man wearing a white skull cap was Mas Selamat, said: ‘I didn’t quite expect him to be such a normal human being. I don’t know how a terrorist would look like, but I expected Mas Selamat to look more fierce.

Can’t look fierce

‘I suppose, someone who’s already in detention can’t look very fierce.’

Mr Sipaun, who has been the vice-chairman of Suhakam for the last 10 years, said: ‘He seemed very forthcoming, he looked at me when he spoke… It was just like a conversation you would have with someone you met on the street.’

Except that this was no ordinary man on the street.

Mas Selamat was a key player in a plot to crash a plane into Changi Airport in 2002. He was also the head of the Singapore cell of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

Mas Selamat sleeps in a dormitory the size of a small hall. It had four or five fans, and he said he was ‘very happy’ there, said Mr Sipaun.

While he was comparing the conditions in the detention centre with those in Singapore, said Mr Sipaun, Mas Selamat told him that he suspected that he was being drugged.

Mr Sipaun said: ‘He brought up the idea of being drugged when we asked him if he wanted to go back to Singapore. He also told us that his family in Singapore had wanted to see him.

‘He said the Malaysian authorities had no problem with the visit, but the Singapore authorities took the passports of his family.’

Mas Selamat claimed that he never felt normal during his detention in Singapore, liberal news portal Malaysiakini reported.

He suspected that the authorities were administering drugs to him through his food.

He said he always felt dizzy and tried to eat as little of the food as possible and escaped at the very first opportunity that he got.

During their visit, Mr Sipaun and his colleagues spoke to eight of the nine detainees at the centre.

Mr Sipaun said he had lingered in Mas Selamat’s room, spending 30 minutes of his two-hour visit there because he had read about his escape in the newspapers.

Mr Sipaun said: ‘I wanted to ask him how he escaped from Singapore, but we started talking about other things, and it just slipped my mind. It is one of my biggest regrets.’

Seasoned Malaysian journalists said Suhakam, which was established by Parliament under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999, does not have much authority.

It made a series of recommendations to the Malaysian government but few were taken up.

The appointees have largely been ex-government men. It is fighting for credibility and risks being tagged as a toothless organisation, they said.

Investigate claims

Said one journalist: ‘Their job is less to investigate and more to do with articulating the claims. They act as the mouthpiece to counterbalance government statements.

‘So if government says black, they say white. In the recent case involving the death of a young DAP (Democratic Action Party) politician, Suhakam echoed claims made by the family of the deceased against the corruption agency. But they did not investigate the claims; they just repeated it.’

The Star newspaper in a recent report about Suhakam said it is under intense pressure to keep its A status, which lets its members participate in the UN Human Rights council. With B status, they will be able to participate only as observers.

Said one journalist: ‘A foreign detainee is the best. If you read carefully, Mas Selamat’s claims are about his detention in Singapore, not Malaysia.

‘By repeating those claims out loud, they get to show they are not toothless and yet not hurt the image of the authorities here because the claims are about the time in Singapore.’

Mr Sipaun, who holds the title of Tan Sri, is a former Sabah State Secretary.

He was also Sabah Public Services Commission chairman.

In April 2000, he was among the 12 people appointed into the Malaysian Human Rights Commission – headed by former deputy prime minister Musa Hitam.

S’pore detainees treated better than prisoners

DETAINEES at the Whitley Detention Centre would be treated better than criminals at normal prisons, Dr Rohan Gunaratna, head of Singapore’s International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research told The Straits Times last year.

He said: ‘If you treat them badly, their resentment will grow.’

Unlike in Changi Prison where a vast majority of prisoners share their cells with other inmates, at Whitley Road, detainees are housed singly to keep extremist ideology from spreading.

Detainees at Whitley Road have further privileges – their families get to visit weekly.

They are allowed to wear civilian clothes and to ‘spruce up’, by shaving for example, when their families visit.

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said: ‘The family is an integral part of the rehabilitative process.’

Detainees also meet Internal Security Department (ISD) warders, case officers and psychologists frequently.

The Whitley centre aims to provide a holistic environment in which detainees can be rehabilitated, said MHA in a previous report.

‘These places are not just about punishment, but also to integrate them back into society,’ said Dr John Harrison of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Also in April last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said security agencies from the US and Europe had come here to compare experiences with the ISD and study Singapore’s methods in fighting Islamist terrorism.

Some 30 Islamic religious teachers make up the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), which works to steer detainees away from the JI’s distortions of Islam.

The group started when a handful of senior religious leaders were approached in 2003 to help counsel the detainees. They roped others in, embarked on a study of JI teachings and how to counter them, and began counselling in April 2004.

Since then, religious counselling has been a key part of the rehabilitation process for these detainees, reported The Straits Times.

The RRG also counsels the detainee’s family to ensure that wrong lessons are not passed on to the next generation and to help wives, sons and daughters assimilate into the mainstream. Many families receive financial support from the Government, and detainees have jobs waiting for them when they are released.

As of May, 40 former terrorists, or roughly two-thirds of the detainees Singapore has arrested since 2001 have been rehabilitated and released, reported The Straits Times. None have returned to their violent past.

This month, the Government has released three more, having assessed that they no longer pose a security threat.

MHA: Mas Selamat had ample opportunity to report ill-treatment

A MINISTRY Of Home Affairs spokesman said in response to media queries that the passports of Mas Selamat’s family members had been officially seized in 2005 because of immigration offences committed by them while they and Mas Selamat were on the run from the authorities and hiding in Indonesia in earlier years.

Mas Selamat had procured a false Indonesian identity card, and he and the family had hidden in Indonesia as illegal immigrants.

Their passports were also seized for security reasons, as Mas Selamat’s wife was a member of the JI’s women wing.

The family’s request for travel documents to enable them to visit Mas Selamat at the Kamunting Detention Centre is currently being assessed by the Singapore authorities.

We will have to consider, given the family’s past immigration offences, Mas Selamat’s terrorist activities and plots against Singapore, and the fact that Mas Selamat’s wife was also a member of the JI, whether it is in our national security interests to grant the family travel documents to leave Singapore to visit him in Malaysia.

As for Mas Selamat’s allegation that his food was drugged, all detainees are examined daily (on weekdays) by a doctor and they may also ask for a doctor at any time.

Those who have medical problems requiring additional attention are sent to the hospitals.

In addition, a Board of Inspection makes unannounced visits to the detention centre to ensure the detainees’ well-being.

Any report of ill-treatment of the detainee is sent to the Minister for Home Affairs.

The Government did not receive any report of ill-treatment from Mas Selamat, the doctor, his family, or the Board of Inspection during his detention.

It should also be pointed out that in the last few years since Mas Selamat was repatriated to Singapore from Indonesia, despite his having plotted terror attacks against Singaporeans and despite his having deserted his family in Singapore and fleeing to hide in Malaysia, ISD and members of the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG), which comprises several Singaporean Malay-Muslim organisations and individuals including AMP, Khadijah Mosque, Mendaki and Taman Bacaan, had provided the family social and financial assistance such as help with their utilities bills, and tuition and school textbooks for the children.

Hoi Wan Theng (Ms)
Senior Manager (Comms)
Ministry of Home Affairs

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