Campaign Writings

“We had to drink toilet water” #ZeroBrutality

Stories from prisoners, detention camps and what it took to survive.

Stories from prisoners, detention camps and what it took to survive.

by Shereen Goh
bersihBersih 3.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur when police attempted to arrest a protester, 30th April 2012
Source : Human Rights Watch,


Quick check before you continue reading the article :

  1. Are you familiar with the notion of ‘police torture’?
  2. Have you heard/do you know of anyone who has been involved in cases of police torture?

If your answer to both of the questions above are ‘no’, then this article is the right piece for you! (Even if you answered ‘yes’, continue reading and you might discover some new facts 🙂 )

What is torture?

The word ‘torture’ usually brings to mind is physical abuse or inflicting pain on another’s body. However, torture may actually take different forms – physical, mental or both. Let me begin by discussing mental torture. If you’ve ever visited any prison or jail in Malaysia, you would have noticed the conditions of the cells – overcrowded, dirty and unhygienic. Have you cared about the living conditions of prisoners, or witnessed how the prisoners are treated? Some of us may think that such treatment is justifiable of prisoners is justifiable. After all, shouldn’t they be punished for their wrongdoings?


Let’s not forget, however, that prisoners are human beings too.

Uthayakumar, founder of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) was jailed for a term of 1.5 years on sedition charges in 2014. Recalling his jail experience in the Kajang prison, he claimed that the prison officers were inhumane. “I [was] locked-up under solitary confinement alone, 24 hours a day not seeing sunlight or fresh air [in a] dimly lit cell and [with] just one set of prison pants and shirt in an empty lock-up.”, the de facto leader wrote while he was in the prison. No social communication with other humans, no knowledge of happenings beyond the four walls of a dark, confined space, no access to clean fresh clothes – this could possibly be the worst form of mental torture one could experience. Uthayakumar was denied basic necessities such as  a toothbrush, toothpaste, bathing soap and towels and claimed that he had to sleep on the cold bare floor without a mattress. When asked for supplies stated above, the policeman’s reply was “pandai-pandailah”. In prison language, this meant begging for supplies from other prisoners.

utayaUthayakumar, 49, began serving a 30-month jail sentence at the Kajang Prison on June 5 after being found guilty of sedition.
Source:  Kuala Lumpur Post,

Uthayakumar is a diabetic patient who requires frequent medical attention. After sending him to the Kajang General Hospital for checkups a few times, the jail wardens eventually stopped doing so. Even after pleading with them, the wardens claimed that only the prison director had the power grant his requests. Uthayakumar’s letters of complaint to his wife and lawyers were confiscated before they arrived, and threats of solitary confinement and denial of monthly family visits were made if he continued to do so. Depriving a person of medical aid available is clearly a form of torture as it is equivalent to standing aside and watching the sick person suffer. This matter needs urgent investigation by the relevant authorities and firm action should be taken against those who are abusing their powers.


Another serious human rights concern is the state of immigration detention camps in the country.

“Only when someone was about to die would the guards come. Otherwise, if we complained, or if we asked to go to the hospital, they beat us,

Mouyura Begum, refugee in Belantik



According to the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), more than 100 foreigners have died in detention centers over the past two years. On average, this amounts to one death per week. The organisation disclosed that the deaths were caused by various diseases and ‘unknown causes’.What could those ‘unknown causes’ be? There have been allegations that the detainees underwent physical and mental torture in the camps. ‘Living in fetid, overcrowded cells, inmates are so severely deprived of basic necessities such as food, water, and medical care’, the Guardian reported. Mouyura Begum, an 18-year-old Rohingya refugee who was detained for over a year at Belantik stated that they were only given a small cup of water with every meal, forcing them to drink toilet water to survive. This is clearly unacceptable treatment.

refugeeBangladeshi and Rohingya migrants from Myanmar ride in a truck as they arrive at the naval base in Langkawi to be transferred to a mainland immigration centre. Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images
Source: The Guardian,


It was hell through real hell.”

Malaysian prisoner

Put yourself in the shoes of those refugees in detention camps. What have they done wrong besides wanting to seek asylum in a safer country and to live a better life? What have they done to deserve ill treatment by the police? According to the UK Reuters, all of the detainees interviewed also alleged that they were beaten by guards at the camps or witnessed others being beaten. One former Rohingya inmate of the Lenggeng camp in the southwestern state of Negeri Sembilan told Reuters in an interview that he witnessed detainees being beaten and then saw them die after the resulting injuries were not treated. The detainees were later told by the police officer to say that the detainee died of sickness despite having witnessed the entire torture process with their own eyes. It is no surprise that survivors are often traumatized by the experience of living in detention camps and have described it as ‘hell through real hell’. Abuse of power is clear – it is illegal for the police to inflict physical harm on the detainees without any justification.

I hope that by reading this article, you’ve gained some knowledge of what is currently happening behind bars. Any form of torture by the police force and abuse of their power is intolerable and action must be taken immediately to condemn this appalling behaviour. Last but not least, I urge each and everyone of you to start being more proactive in knowing your rights in case any of you are arrested by the police and have to serve a jail term. Look out for your welfare, and play a part in putting an end to police violence in our country.  


KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! #zerobrutality

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