This is the second part of my interview with the Malaysian Human Rights Activist Adam Adli. Adam talks about the General Election which took place in 2013, about his arrest and about the prison conditions which he experienced in the Jingjang Police lockup in Kuala Lumpur. Follow the link to read the first part of the interview.
Could you describe the election in 2013? What happened?
During the 2013 election, there was proof of massive misconduct. We called for a protest and we asked for a re-election, because we couldn’t accept the outcome of the election, especially when the opposition obtained 52% of the popular votes, while the government only managed 47%.
But the ruling party are still in government, because the electoral system was designed to keep them in power. It has never given an opportunity to the people to make a choice, instead it’s a rubberstamp election and the government will always call for elections whenever they feel that they’re ready. It’s just to validate the mandate of the current government every five years, so they call for an election when it is due, because the law says so. They aren’t afraid of it, because – no matter how small the popular vote is – they’ll will remain in government.
During the last election we called for a massive protest in the entire country. I was arrested for being a part of the campaign and for giving a speech, which allegedly indicated hatred and allegedly initiated chaos, causing disharmony among the people. Authorities think that it will create a riot, that it will create unrest among the people, but this isn’t the case. The last time I checked I wasn’t offending the people but the government, so arrest is a political tool to punish those who voice criticism against the government. That’s the episode of the last general election. That’s how I got involved in the political games in Malaysia. That’s how I was arrested, brought to the court and charged under the Sedition Act. They sentenced me to 12 months of jail.
Did you know that you would be arrested?
Before the election we were quite optimistic that the government would be overthrown. We saw the response of the public and thought that it was quite impossible for the opposition to lose in the General Election 2013. We also knew that – if we failed to bring them down – all of us would be punished in jail or subjected to whatever they wanted to do to us.
During the speech I already knew that I would get into trouble, because I spoke out strongly against them. I was arrested one week after giving the speech. From the moment I gave the speech, I was prepared to be arrested anytime. I knew about such things. I knew that the government would not let it pass. It was something that offended the government and when you offend them, they’ll punish you and take action against you for sure.
What were your feelings about it?
I felt that it was necessary. Malaysian society is quiet. We need to be loud enough to make them hear us. By being loud you also put the reset at a very high level. I’ve been quite motivated and inspired by many other freedom fighters. Of course it was inconvenient for me to be arrested: I couldn’t speak to my friends, I couldn’t enjoy my everyday life, but it’s necessary to show the people what we mean when we say that the government has to go.
This government is the one who’s taking away your freedom; it has been fooling around with you; it has been a bad government. This is how a bad government works: they’ll arrest and jail everyone whom they regard as a gangster – sometimes without any reason. They’re politicians who are too afraid of their own enemy. They might think that they don’t have the ability to confront the people who criticize them, so they use all the power they have to stop them. I knew that here were risks when I decided to enter this game, to be part of this world of politics and activism. There are always risks. The government, the authority, the oppressor will do everything to oppress you and you need to be ready for it. You need to understand that this is a necessary sacrifice which you have to make.
How did your family and friends react when you got arrested?
When I was arrested I called my parents to let them know that police was taking me away and that they should keep calm and not worry too much. I asked them not to come to Kuala Lumpur where I was, because it would be troublesome to make the trip all the way from Penang. But my father was worried, so he came to see me.
He saw me in the police lock-up, so he was OK. My mum was playing it cool. When I told her, “OK, I’m being arrested. I don’t know how many days I’ll be taken in. Don’t worry about anything. I’ll be fine. They won’t dare to do anything to me in police custody. There is media everywhere, everything has been activated to keep people like me safe.” She said, “OK, yeah, just make sure you come back as soon as you’re released and take care of yourself.” My friends were really supportive. They campaigned for my release and tried to show the people that the government was arresting their own people. To see how your friend is taken away right in front of your eyes is quite something. Of course all of us understand the risks of being an activist. We can’t expect anything but the worst. Still, all of us are human so it was quite sad for my friends to see how I was taken away, but they’re as strong as me. I asked my lawyers to tell my friends to have fun out there and to protest, protest, protest. Just don’t be sad about it. Seize the chance, seize every moment, seize the opportunities, just go and go, teach the government some lessons.
Did you get support while you were detained?
In the six days of my detention in the police lock-up, I had no way of knowing what was going on outside, but I saw pictures of hundreds, maybe up to a thousand, people who gathered in front of the police complex to show their support.
Some of them wrote songs for me; thousands of people started to show their solidarity on social media; there were profile pictures with my name on it. All of these things were huge sources of support, and the lawyers showed me their phones, “Look at this. You don’t have to worry. There are so many people out there supporting you.” When I was charged, they raised money for bail. Many lawyers helped me when I was brought to court, and I obtained bail and was properly defended. I’m very grateful that so many people were aware of my situation and for their support. That helped me a lot.
Were your family members or friends harassed by the police to put you under pressure?
When I was arrested and my case was publicized in the media, the police didn’t threaten my family but there were some irresponsible individuals from certain political parties – you can guess which – who went to my parents’ house once or twice to ask about me, which to my family is a form of intimidation, but they stopped after a while.
Describe the period from arrest to release.
When I was arrested on 18 May, I was about to go for dinner. They arrested me when I was approaching my car. When they arrested me I asked them for legitimization. They said that the arrest was under the Sedition Act. I called my lawyers when I was remanded for 24 hours. On the next morning they extended the remand to an investigation lasting six days. When I was in jail, they gave me orange overalls. Orange means that you’re a serious criminal. Normally it’s given to rapists and murderers because they want to make sure that you are visible all the time. The other people in custody were jailed with other detainees but I was kept on my own, and I wasn’t allowed to speak to the other detainees and they weren’t allowed to talk to me, because my ‘crime’ was sedition.
So actually you were treated as a murderer or rapist because you raised your voice and you spoke your mind?
Yeah, there were people who informed me that they received orders not to speak to me whenever they passed food to me. Throughout the six days of detention I was interrogated every day from 8 am to 6 or 7 pm. This were nearly 10 hours in which they asked the same questions. It happened every day but towards the end they realized that I won’t open my mouth because I exercised my right to remain silent.
You didn’t say anything?
I answered simple questions like my name, but I didn’t answer any other questions about my association with people and groups. It would be very stupid of me to answer in police custody. It happened every day and this is also how I knew what time it was. There weren’t any windows In the building so I couldn’t know what time it was apart from my meals. I didn’t know what was going on outside but when I was in the interrogation room it indicated to me that it was morning and when they sent me to my cell I knew that it was already late.
Your cell didn’t have windows?
There were windows but you couldn’t look out. You didn’t know what time it was and you couldn’t see anything except the windows. My cell faced other buildings. It wasn’t dark because there were lights everywhere. They kept the lights on all of the time.
So they didn’t want you to sleep? Or why didn’t they switch off the lights?
Solitary confinement, also regarded as torture, in a cell. In the absence of pictures of the Jingjang police station in which Adam was detained, here is one of a cell in California.
Some of the police officers were annoyed at me for sleeping all the time. I told them that there was nothing that I could do in jail. I kept rubberbands from my food packets and tied them into a small ball, so that I can play with it, but they took that away. I had nothing else to do but sleep. I asked them for books. They didn’t allow me anything so what else was there for me to do? But I learned a skill – sleeping anywhere at any time. You just have to lay down, don’t do anything, don’t think about anything for 15 minutes, then you’ll fall asleep. It works every time, so each time the police locked me in the cell, I could always sleep – no matter what happened. That’s how I made it through the six days doing nothing.
Ali Abd Jalil (another activist) was tortured right? He was beaten and kicked – all the things which the Malaysian police do. Did they do anything to harm you?
They tried to intimidate me. Some of the police officers wanted to harm me but the threats were psychological rather than physical. They didn’t dare touch me, but they started asking questions which were not asked during the interrogation. It happened when I was in the cell. They asked weird questions like “Do you regret what has happened to you?” and “Do you know where your parents are?” They said stuff to break me but I was certain that it was not true. There were many people outside so they would regret it if they dared to touch me.
Did they threaten to harm your family during your arrest?
No they didn’t, but they suggested that my parents were sad, that they had fallen sick because of me. But my father was around. He got to see me almost every day so I was pretty sure that he and my mum were fine. They made up lies hoping to break me.
Could you describe the conditions under detention?
I was told that the police station was a new complex, so everything’s in place. But of course it was police custody. There was nothing much apart from a toilet bowl, a tap where I could get water to take a shower and a bench made out of cement. I slept on a cement bed. It was very hard. Sometimes it was cold and the food was quite simple. They don’t serve any spicy food so that you won’t fall ill or cause trouble. They served rice, fish and some boiled vegetables every day.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Breakfast was a piece of bread with hot tea. Everything was served in plastic wrappers. You have to eat everything that was given to you. The food that is served will not cause an upset stomach or make you sick. Sometimes I got extra buns at night because there were some sympathic policemen. They knew that I was not a criminal and that I was detained under the Sedition Act, which was a rare case in this jail. They tried to talk to me and asked questions to understand me. They just came by and started asking why there were so many people outside and why the newspapers reported about me and about what was happening in this country.
Adam´s father died during a motorcyle accident on 24th of April 2015. My deepest condolence to Adam and his family for this loss. May Abdul Halim Abdul Hamid rest in peace.