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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974

The Political Widows of Malaysia

The Political Widows of Malaysia

H.E. Mr Kurt Waldheim,

Secretary General, United Nations.

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned are writing to you on behalf of the families of political prisoners in Malaysia. There are over 300* of them in the political prisons of Batu Gaja, Muar, Taiping and Seremban as well as in a secret centre near Kuala Lumpur. We are appealing for your good offices to obtain an investigation by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and for your support to our demand for an immediate and unconditional release of the political prisoners.

Our loved ones have been in political prisons from between two to ten years. None of them have been charged with any offence or been given a chance to defend themselves in a court of law. The most that the regime in power has alleged against them is that they have organised against the government but there are not even allegations of violent activities. In fact they are patriots who have protested against a corrupt and dictatorial regime that serves the interests of wealthy foreign companies whilst depriving citizens of their basic rights. These political prisoners are prominent political and trade union leaders and intellectuals of our country who are thrown behind bars because of their political belief.

The arbitrary imprisonment of political opponents is a continuation of the policies of the colonial government. Under the notorious "Internal Security Act", every year hundreds are arrested and imprisoned without trial. It is many weeks before relatives are told of their whereabouts. In some cases the prisoner is transported to a secret centre where he is subject to solitary confinement, deprivation and torture.

Some have been released after many years in political prisons but deprived of their fundamental rights. They are restricted to one district for residence and must observe a curfew. They may not take part in union and political activities. They are harrassed in their efforts to obtain a livelihood.

Many others are being kept in prisons for deportation. Political prisoners of Chinese racial origin have their citizenship revoked and held in prisons until the Chinese government accepts them for deportation which it never has. This barbarous treatment is being justified on the grounds that when the present regime revokes their citizenship they become Chinese nationals. In fact these political prisoners regard this country as their home.

The political prisons are overcrowded with little space for recreational activities. Political prisoners are behind these huge walls for year after year. Medical attention is very bad and prisoners have died from neglect. Others have gone mad during imprisonment. It is very difficult to get to a hospital for attention and political prisoners are handcuffed even when sick and being taken to hospital.

Food in prisons is of extremely poor quality and is calculated to minimum nutritional levels. Another deprivation that is seriously felt is that of reading materials. Books are heavily censored. Even local newspapers are censored. Books on educational subjects, on languages or on health are amongst those not allowed to prisoners.

Political prisoners are allowed a few censored letters but in practice letters sent by prisoners frequently never reach their destination and many letters sent to them do not get to them. This is particularly painful as few families can afford to make frequent trips to see them for the strictly supervised visits.

Treatment of prisoners by the prison authorities has ranged from indifference to outright brutality. Conditions were especially harsh in 1969-1970, following the racial violence launched by the ruling party. They were treated even worse than criminals. Federal Reserve Units were brought into the camp to brutally assault the political prisoners. Female prisoners were molested. They were confined solitarily in cells of 6ft. by 12ft for 24 hours a day. They were deprived of their rights of visit and correspondence. Even correspondence with and visits by legal advisers were refused. Forced labour was practised.

To use their own words: "During the reign of white terror which lasted for almost one year, detainees in solitary cells were beaten up until they fainted away while others were injured or lost their teeth. Their belongings were stolen. When the assaulted detainees asked to consult the doctor and made any complaints they were subject to even heavier beatings. A sick detainee admitted to the hospital had his hands handcuffed to the ward-bed.

The continued imprisonment and ill treatment of these patriots is causing great anger amongst relatives as well as the people of the country. There have been many hunger strikes and processions by political prisoners and their relatives. We are determined to struggle to obtain their release from prolonged and indefinite incarceration.

We request Your Excellency to our appeal and to request the Commission on Human Rights and other concerned organisations of the United Nations to act on it.

Yours faithfully,

Madam Maimun

, wife of

Dzulkifly b. Ismail


Madam Chuah Saw Heoh

, mother of

Tan Hock Hin

Mr M. Sundram

, father of

S.N. Rajah


* This figure does not include many hundreds more political prisoners held by the same regime in the concentration camps of Sabah and Sarawak.