Protecting our corals

by Gan Pei Ling / 4 August 2010 © The Nut Graph

Reef Check Malaysia conducting a reef survey (pic courtesy of Reef Check Malaysia)

IN July 2010, several popular dive sites in Peninsular Malaysia were closed due to coral bleaching. Marine Park Department director-general Abd Jamal Mydin told reporters that in Pulau Payar in Kedah for example, an estimated 60% to 90% of corals were affected by the bleaching. Besides the peninsula, signs of coral bleaching have also been reported in Sepanggar Bay, Sabah.

Reef Check Malaysia general manager Julian Hyde tells The Nut Graph that the bleaching was first observed in April 2010, and the situation got worse in May and June. However, he says some divers have observed that the colours have returned to some of the corals in the past two to three weeks. “Contrary to popular belief, bleached corals are not necessarily dead. The decision to close down some of the popular sites is a short-term measure to reduce stress on the corals and thus increase their chances of recovering from the bleaching,” says Hyde in a phone interview.

But why are our corals bleaching? And why should we care what happens to them?

Stressed and threatened

Hyde says coral bleaching may happen when corals are stressed due to a variety of reasons that include increased sea temperature and pollution. However, mass bleaching is usually linked to high water temperature.

“Corals are very sensitive; a rise in 1°C to 2°C may cause them to bleach. When temperature increases, the symbiotic micro algae that live within corals will begin to release toxic molecules. Apart from providing the corals with food, these algae, called zooxanthellae, are what give the corals their colours.

“Consequently, the zooxanthellae are expelled from the corals’ tissue and the corals turn white,” Hyde explains. He adds that the corals can survive for several weeks if water temperature goes down in time and the zooxanthellae returns.

However, prolonged high water temperature may severely damage the corals and their ecosystems. During the El Nino and La Nina events in 1997 and 1998, mass bleaching and mortality were reported in coral reefs worldwide.

Apart from bleaching, our corals are also threatened by other human activities that could directly damage the reefs such as dynamite and cyanide fishing that happens in Sabah and tourists who carelessly touch, break or step on the corals.

Water pollution and coastal development that leads to soil erosion are also making it harder for our coral reefs to survive and flourish.

Why should we care?

Coral bleaching in Pulai Tenggol, Terengganu (pic courtesy of Lau Chai Ming)

Southeast Asia reportedly contains the largest area of coral reefs in the world. In addition, Malaysia is located in the Coral Triangle together with Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and the Philippines.

In fact, the biodiversity of coral reefs in Southeast Asia is unparalleled according to the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network in their 2008 report on the status of coral reefs worldwide.

Additionally, the marine parks in Peninsular Malaysia have been receiving 400,000 to 550,000 visitors per year since 2000. Hence, the reefs also help to generate tourism revenue.

Coral reefs and their vicinity also supply over 50% of our seafood, according to Malaysia’s Marine Park Department. “Over 3,000 marine species live in our reefs, and from this breeding ground comes half of our seafood supply,” it says on its site.

The department adds that medicine for cancer treatment and heart disease have also been discovered in bioactive compounds produced in coral reefs.

Careless tourists

Despite that, many snorkelers and divers couldn’t seem to care less what they do to our corals as long as they have fun. “I’ve seen some divers leaning on the corals to take photographs,” says marine biology graduate student Lau Chai Ming from Universiti Malaya. He adds that even though he signals the divers not to touch the corals or pull them away, many don’t get the message.

Coral bleaching (pic courtesy of Reef Check Malaysia)

Responsible tourists are not supposed to touch, lean or stand on the reefs as they might break the corals that take hundreds or even thousands of years to form the structures seen today.

In May 2010, the Terengganu government said it planned to limit the annual number of tourists visiting Redang Island because the increasing number of tourists was taking a toll especially on the coral reefs.

Greenfins Malaysia was also set up in 2008 to encourage dive operators and their clients to adopt environmentally-friendly practices to help conserve coral reefs and marine life.

Alive vs dead

Shafinaz (pic courtesy of Izwar Zakri)

Reef Check Malaysia eco-diver Shafinaz Suhaimi says her most memorable experience when conducting reef surveys are the encounters with diverse marine life.

“Healthy reefs are bursting with marine life, sometimes turtles or a school of juvenile barracudas (ray-fined fish) would swim past us while we’re laying the transect line (to conduct the survey).

“I’ve also seen cuttlefish mating, and once I was almost attacked by a Titan triggerfish — they are very territorial when they are mating and nesting,” says Shafinaz, who has been conducting reef checks in Perhentian, Tioman and other islands on the east coast of the peninsula since 2007.

“The most exciting is when we see endangered species like sharks or the barramundi cod which have been severely fished out,” adds Shafinaz.

She says that the part of the survey she dislikes is when the transect line comes across dead reefs or marine life. “The survey can be done in less than an hour as there will be nothing much left to observe and record.”


JK Rowling once wrote in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “If you want to know what a [person is] like, take a good look at how he [or she] treats his [or her] inferiors, not his [or her] equals.” Gan Pei Ling thinks the same could apply to how we treat our corals.

Not talking about sex: At whose expense?

by Gan Pei Ling / 2 August 2010 © The Nut Graph

SOME government officials have recently come up with “creative” ways to solve the problems of teenage pregnancy and baby dumping in Malaysia. To curb teenage pregnancies, the Education Ministry said it was encouraging students to submit written pledges that they would not engage in premarital sex. To solve the problem of baby dumping, Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam announced that the state planned to set up a special school for pregnant teens.

Shahrizat

These suggestions may seem well-intentioned for some. But they are actually problematic. So what if students submit a written pledge? Youths who are curious about sex and want to experiment would do it before marriage anyway. And as Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil has pointed out, the girls who are placed in Malacca’s “special school” will likely be stigmatised, creating other problems for them.

Instead of offering piecemeal solutions, what we really need is to get to the root of the problem of teenage pregnancies. Plus, it’s unfair to expect the government alone to be responsible for the problem.

Empowering, instead of preventing

What really is the root of the problem? Is it really that teenagers are having sex outside of marriage and should be stopped? Or that teenagers who find themselves in such situations don’t know how to protect themselves because they haven’t been taught?

If anything, the “chastity” pledge demonstrates the Education Ministry’s attempt to impose a narrow moralistic view about sex on young people. Such attempts have failed in other countries, including in the US. And even if some of us believe that young people should not have sex before marriage, we should not withhold important information about safe sex and contraception from them. Doing so would amount to a gross disservice to our youth.

Indeed, we cannot compel anyone – youths or adults – to strictly adhere to moral codes, in their private lives, that have been set by others. And if we continue to tell youths they shouldn’t engage in premarital sex in the same way that they should say “no” to smoking or drugs, we are actually telling them that premarital sex is something that is as ruinous, and shameful to boot.

But will these prevention methods really work? From the rate of teenage pregnancies and baby dumping that has been reported of late, clearly a better strategy is needed.

(Pic by Morrhigan / sxc.hu)

Our youth need accurate information on contraception and birth control so that they can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections – including HIV/AIDS – and unwanted pregnancies, before or during marriage. Wouldn’t providing youths with information, instead of moralistic prohibitions, be more empowering in helping young people make responsible decisions about their bodies and relationships?

For example, many continue to subscribe to myths such as girls or women can’t get pregnant during their period or if the guy pulls out before he ejaculates. Such falsehoods can only be dispelled if parents or teachers create safe spaces for discussion for young people, instead of treating sex as something that is immoral and shameful.

As it is, without responsible adults to discuss these issues with, many young people turn to pornography out of curiosity. But many do not know how to view pornography critically and lack the skills and maturity to negotiate sexual relationships.

Hence, it is actually irresponsible for parents or teachers to avoid talking about sex and sexuality simply because they are “uncomfortable” with the subject. If parents and teachers don’t provide a place where young people can go to, where do we expect our youths to find out about responsible relationships?

Conflicting messages

Young people are often confused by the conflicting messages about sex and sexuality from the media or society. For example, the teenage characters in Gossip Girl have sex. We tell them “that’s the West” and premarital sex is not compatible with “Asian values”. But stories of couples having sex before marriage are shown in Korean, Japanese and Hong Kong dramas, too.

Young people hear politicians declare that scantily dressed women arouse men’s sexual desire and cause men to sexually harass or rape women. Yet the government continues to allow the advertising industry to objectify women’s bodies in ads.

Young people in Malaysia see gay couples in healthy, loving relationships in The L Word and Brothers and Sisters, yet sodomy is a crime, and pengkid are outlawed, and the media either ignore or demonise people of different sexualities.

A 2008 fatwa ruled that tomboys, or pengkid, were forbidden in Islam

How are young people supposed to make sense of all these conflicting messages without guidance from their parents, teachers or other adults?

Parents

One of the reasons many parents and teachers feel “embarrassed” talking about such subjects is because even they themselves may not know much about sex and sexuality. But isn’t it high time our parents and teachers, especially those teaching subjects related to sex, buck up and adopt a more open attitude towards sex and sexuality so that they can be responsible adults?

“In countries like the Netherlands, where many families regard it as an important responsibility to talk openly with children about sex and sexuality, this contributes to greater cultural openness about sex and sexuality and improved sexual health among young people,” according to HIV/AIDS charity Avert.

The organisation also says there is evidence that positive parent-child communication about sexual matters can lead to greater condom use among young men and a lower rate of teenage conception among young women. Avert further suggests that parents can view sex education as an ongoing conversation about values, attitudes and issues with their children.

Embarrassment or discomfort to talk about sex and sexuality is a lame excuse, especially if that may cause your child or student to get infected, or become a teenage parent.

Let’s talk about sex, please

by Gan Pei Ling / 28 July 2010 © The Nut Graph

(Chalkboard image by ilco / sxc.hu)

(Chalkboard image by ilco / sxc.hu)

TO its credit, the government is trying to introduce sex education in schools. From mid-2009 till end of 2011, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry and the Education Ministry are implementing a pilot project targeting 16- and 17-year-olds in five schools.

“The ministry hopes to use the outcome from the project to advocate for the inclusion of social and reproductive health education in primary and secondary schools,” Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil tells The Nut Graph. Indeed, with increased reports of baby dumping and teenage pregnancies, having sex education is clearly an imperative.

The pilot project is called I’m In Control, and Shahrizat explains that the module educates teenagers on how to identify and avoid high-risk situations, including assertive techniques to avoid premarital sex.

If the government is eventually successful in implementing sex education in schools, how should a comprehensive sex education look like? Additionally, what obstacles stand in the way of sex education?

Sexual beings

P.S. The Children‘s training and education director Nooreen Preusser says that everyone, regardless of their age, is a sexual being. “Even babies are curious about their bodies and play with their genitals; it’s a healthy curiosity,” she says in a phone interview with The Nut Graph.

Hence, she argues, sex and sexuality education should begin from pre-school, in an age-appropriate way.

Preusser (Courtesy of Nooreen Preusser)

“We could start by teaching children the correct names of their private body parts as we teach them the names of their other body parts,” she says, adding that that this signals there is no shame or mystery associated with private body parts.

Preusser says that in Germany, eight- and nine-year-olds are taught the basic facts about heterosexual sex and conception.

“The children are not shocked as it is done in an appropriate and matter-of-fact way,” she says, stressing that children also need to be taught to differentiate between a safe and unsafe touch.

Preusser adds that in countries like Finland and Netherlands, where sex education starts at pre-school, the rates of unplanned teenage pregnancies and teenagers infected with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are much lower.

Access to information

Malaysian youths are also not helped by their alarmingly low awareness about contraception, according to a survey released in 2009. Additionally, contraception is not offered by the public health sector to unmarried people, Low Wah Yun from Universiti Malaya‘s Faculty of Medicine points out in a 2009 research paper.

Youths only have access to contraceptive services by private and non-governmental organisations. However, low awareness on the availability of such services and social stigma prevent most youth from accessing these services.

(Pic by zts / Dreamstime)

“Teenagers have the right to accurate sexual and reproductive health information so that they can make responsible and informed sexual choices,” says Wong Li Leng from the Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia (FRHAM).

She says her association promotes abstinence, but “we have to accept the reality that some teenagers are engaging in premarital sex, and they need to have information to protect themselves and their partners from HIV/AIDS, STIs, unplanned pregnancies, etc.”

Teaching equality

Activist and writer Marina Mahathir says gender is a key component that should be included in sex education.

“We have to educate teenagers about negative gender stereotypes; for example, how boys are expected to be macho all the time and girls are expected to be submissive in relationships under social norms,” the 3R executive producer says. The TV programme 3R tackles issues on sexuality and women’s rights.

Wong agrees with Marina: “[W]ithout knowing the assumptions made to boys and girls, and recognising how gender stereotyping affects their choices and relationships in their lives, teenagers will not be able to apply the skills [in negotiating sexual relationships] in their daily lives.”

Wong adds that in FRHAM’s module, they also educate adolescents on their rights and values, and what to do when their rights are violated. “[F]or example, if they are sexually harassed or abused, we educate them on why it happens, what to do, and where to go.”

Wong (Pic courtesy of Cheah Shu Yi)

“We [also] explore issues on peer pressure, and the techniques of saying ‘no’,” Wong tells The Nut Graph.

Marina adds that topics such as dating, commitment in a relationship, as well as the existence of different sexualities should also be discussed in sex education.

In Singapore, sex education starts from upper primary till pre-university level. However, homosexuality is only covered in one lesson in lower secondary school, and students are taught that homosexual acts are illegal. People with other sexualities such as transgender, asexual and intersex are not mentioned in the curriculum at all.

“We can’t pretend that people with different sexualities don’t exist. It only serves to elevate discrimination against them. We need to create more safe spaces for people to talk about these issues,” says Marina.

Wong says FRHAM does provide information on other sexualities in their module.

Political will

If Malaysian youth are to be empowered to make informed and responsible choices on their sexual and reproductive health behaviour, then having comprehensive sex education would help. However, the government’s attempt to introduce sex education, also known as social and reproductive health education or sexuality education, in schools is not new.

In 2005, the Education Ministry announced it planned to introduce sex education to curb sexual crimes, internet pornography, and premarital sex. The government also considered including sex education in the National Service programme in 2008. There have not been any updates on either initiative.

Shahrizat (File pic)

Shahrizat says many parents worry because they misconceive sex education as teaching young people how to have sex, while teachers say they are not prepared to take on the subject.

“[P]arents worry [this] will lead to early sexual experimentation and promiscuity.

“However, findings of studies carried out by countries that have implemented sex education such as Sweden, Norway and Netherlands have shown that sex education for young people leads to a delay in sexual initiation, promotes abstinence, and prevents STIs and unwanted pregnancies,” Shahrizat says.

The plastic menace

by Gan Pei Ling / 20 July 2010 © The Nut Graph

“IT’s not sexy, that’s why nobody cares,” a friend comments on why few Malaysians are concerned about the problem of plastic waste even though it threatens the environment that sustains us. “It’s sexier to talk about renewable energy and green buildings than how we handle our trash,” the friend adds.

That is until some of our state and local governments took the initiative to launch No Plastic Bag Day campaigns. Penang was the first to launch the campaign in July 2009. Those without reusable bags have to pay 20 sen for a plastic bag when they shop on Mondays. In January 2010, the campaign was extended to include Tuesdays and Wednesdays. At the same time, Selangor launched its own No Plastic Bag Day campaign on Saturdays. Subsequently, the Miri and Sibu municipal councils in Sarawak, as well as Kota Kinabalu city hall and six other districts in Sabah announced similar campaigns.

How effective are these campaigns? Can they really help save the planet? And what can be done to make these campaigns more popular?

Campaigns’ effectiveness

The idea of banning plastic bags to reduce its use is not new. In 2002, Ireland imposed a 15 euro cent tax on plastic bags, and its use dropped over 90% within five months. In the same year, Bangladesh banned polyethylene bags in Dhaka as the bags were choking the drainage system and causing floods in the capital.

China banned plastic bags in 2008. A year later, it was reported that the country saved the equivalent of 1.6 million tonnes of oil and 40 billion bags. Other countries that have introduced additional charges or tax on plastic bags include Rwanda, Eritrea and Switzerland.

In Selangor, the use of plastic bags was reduced by five million in the first four months of its campaign. In Penang, the amount was one million bags over the same period.

(Pic by roberto / sxc.hu)

Despite such reductions in plastic bag use, Ireland’s scheme has been criticised for triggering a 400% increase in the purchase of bin liners and greater reliance on paper bags. Contrary to the popular belief that paper bags are more eco-friendly, they actually require more energy to manufacture and cause more pollution during production. This probably explains why Penang and Selangor did not compel or encourage retailers to replace plastic with paper bags.

Convincing the public

Asking consumers to sacrifice requires some doing, especially when Malaysians are so used to free plastic bags that some consumers mistake it as a “right”. Some consumer associations, for example, claimed that the 20 sen charge was decided without their consultation and was therefore unfair.

Perhaps as a public relations measure to help consumers make the switch, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng announced that the state would use the funds collected from the plastic bag charges to eradicate hardcore poverty.

In Selangor, participating retailers are required to use the funds to conduct corporate social responsibility programmes. The Selangor government encourages these retailers to conduct programmes relating to the environment.

Perhaps one other way to compel consumers to change their lifestyle is to lead them to the Pacific Garbage Patch that stretches several hundred miles in the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest of five plastic garbage patches in our oceans. For now, there is no way to clean up these garbage patches, scientists say.

As a result of our consumption and disposal of plastic, scientists estimate there are six times more plastic than plankton in the “continent”. Trapped by circulating ocean currents, the plastic we throw away are choking fishes and seabirds to death as the marine animals mistake them for food. Every year, more than 100,000 marine animals such as dolphins, whales and sea turtles are killed because of plastic bags.

Plastic waste found on the beach in Kuantan (Pic by Carolyn Lau and Ng Sek San)

If we don’t care about marine life, here’s another thought that should give us pause. Plastics absorb pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls, otherwise known as cancer-causing PCBs, and pesticides.

“These particles are ingested by marine life and pass into our food chain. We all do it: we throw this stuff, this packaging, what I call dumb plastic, into the bin, and we think it has gone. But it comes back to us one way or another. Some of it ends up on our dinner plates,” British adventurer and environmentalist David de Rothschild tells The Guardian.

In 2009, Rothschild sailed to the patch in a vessel made entirely of plastics called Plastiki. The billionaire banking heir has definitely found a way to make the issue of plastic waste seem sexier.

Considering some of the gruesome facts surrounding plastic bags pollution, 20 sen per bag is a really small price to pay.

Other solutions

The Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers Association has proposed to the Penang government to give out free oxo-biodegradable plastic bags so that consumers can still enjoy free plastic bags on campaign days.

However, oxo-biodegradable plastic bags are not 100% degradable. They can only degrade in the presence of sunlight and oxygen. Those that end up in landfills would not degrade at all. Therefore, reusable bags are still the best option.

For certain, most of our plastic waste comes from packaging that is often unnecessary. Malaysian consumers cannot hope to rely solely on governments to resolve our plastic waste problem. After all, in a marketplace driven by profit, consumer demand and lifestyle are often much more powerful than government regulations.

As Leo Hickman writes in The Guardian on 11 Aug 2009: “[Plastic bags] are the ultimate symbol of our throwaway culture.”

No Plastic Bag Day campaigns are merely the first step towards stimulating the public to rethink the impact of our “use and throw” habit on the very environment that sustains us.


Gan Pei Ling believes reusable bags are the best solution to our plastic bag dilemma, but would like to remind readers to wash their reusable bags frequently in the interest of hygiene.

Related post: Plastic matters

Going nuclear: Convincing the public

by Gan Pei Ling /30 June 2010 © The Nut Graph

MALAYSIA’s first nuclear power plant is expected to be up and running by 2021.That’s just one decade away. Public concerns have already been expressed about the astronomical start-up costs, safety, and radioactive waste management of having such a nuclear plant. In response, Energy, Green Technology, and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin told Parliament on 7 June 2010 that the government would be conducting road shows to educate the public.

(Pic by merlin1075 / sxc.hu)

Additionally, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has begun branding nuclear energy as “green” energy. It seems the government is bent on going nuclear so that we don’t lose out to our neighbours. For certain, there is big business involved. South KoreaFrance, and other foreign nuclear industries are already eyeing to tap into Malaysia’s new multibillion-ringgit nuclear market.

Still, the government must allay serious and legitimate fears about nuclear power. It cannot expect that there will not be public protests unless these fears are convincingly addressed.

Not alone

Malaysia is not alone in wanting to pursue nuclear power. Asean countries began flirting with the idea of harnessing nuclear energy for electricity generation around the 1960s.

The Philippines was the first to build a nuclear power plant in 1976. However, the project became a white elephant after the plant was found to be unsafe as it was constructed near major earthquake fault lines.

Since then, other Asean countries have announced plans to go nuclear due to rising fossil fuel prices. In 2007, Myanmar signed a deal with Russia to build its first research reactor, while Thailand declared that its first nuclear power plant would be operational by 2020. In late June 2010, Vietnam announced it would be building eight nuclear power plants in the next 20 years.

Others like Cambodia and Singapore have also indicated keen interest.

Show us the plan

Since the Malaysian government is so determined to play catch-up with our neighbours, here are some steps it can take to convince the Malaysian public that nuclear is indeed a safe, clean, and affordable energy option.

1. Where’s Malaysia’s radioactive waste management plan?

The government has identified potential sites in Pahang, Johor and Terengganu to build the plant. But it has yet to make public what it plans to do with the radioactive waste generated.

(Pic by flaivoloka / sxc.hu)

Will we be shipping our radioactive waste to France to be reprocessed or are we storing it in our own country? If we are shipping it half a globe away to be reprocessed, what measures are the government taking against terrorist attacks? Plutonium, which will be among the radioactive waste generated, is commonly used to make atomic bombs.

If we are storing it in Malaysia, where will it be stored? I imagine Pakatan Rakyat-led states would be among the first to say no. Will other states be willing to offer their states as a dumping ground? After all, even for the Broga incinerator project, there was so much public protest that in the end, the project was cancelled.

2. What’s Malaysia’s emergency plans?

For all they want, the nuclear industry can boost their safety record after the tragedies of Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. But the truth is, the industry has continued to be plagued by other accidents and radioactive leaks during the past few decades.

What will the Malaysian government do in the event of a radioactive leak, fire, floods, or in the worst case scenario, a nuclear meltdown? What are the emergency plans that will be put in place? Show us you are prepared to deal with potential natural and human-caused disasters.

3. Give us financial security.

The nuclear industry is also notorious for cost overruns and construction delays. The latest example would be the new generation reactor in Finland, which was supposed to be completed last year. Its price tag has increased almost 50% to €4.2 billion due to safety issues in its design.

What steps are the government taking to ensure that Malaysia’s nuclear reactor will not go down the same path as Finland’s reactor? Who will foot the bill if we do? Surely the government does not expect to use taxpayers’ money to bail out the project if it goes beyond its original budget of between RM6 billion and RM13 billion. Perhaps the current ministers, TNB’s directors, and any other party that is so determined to push for nuclear energy to satisfy Malaysians’ “surging energy demand” can offer to fork out their own money.

The truth is…

Radioactive waste from nuclear energy will likely outlive human civilisation. That’s why, without a viable waste management plan, it is irresponsible to set up nuclear reactors. Even developed countries like Germany, which depend significantly on nuclear for its energy, have yet to figure out where to store their waste permanently.

Indeed, high-level waste generated from a reactor has to be stored in steel containers that must also last beyond human life. If the government were to be entrepreneurial, it could of course sell eternity ad spaces on these steel containers for a nifty sum. That would help reduce the government’s deficit for certain. But it would still not address the legitimate fears people have about nuclear waste.

Susilo Bambang (Source: presidensby.info)

And lest the government forget how critical public support is, Indonesia had to postpone its plan to build nuclear power plants indefinitely, partly due to public protest. Its president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said on 19 June 2010 that the country would instead focus on developing renewable energy such as geothermal, wind, solar and biofuels.

For now, the Malaysian government doesn’t actually have a plan that addresses the safety issues of nuclear energy. And for so long as it doesn’t, it cannot hope that road shows alone will convince the public.


Gan Pei Ling believes in renewable, instead of, nuclear energy. She is a member of NukeOff, a Malaysian youth group that questions the government rationale of going nuclear. Her column, As If Earth Matters, will be a fortnightly offering on The Nut Graph.

Related post: The nuclear waste dilemma

What happens under ISA detention

by Gan Pei Ling / 30 June 2010 © The Nut Graph

THE Home Ministry is expected to table amendments to the Internal Security Act (ISA) in the current July parliamentary sitting. However, it remains unclear whether judicial review will be included among the amendments. Without the inclusion of judicial review, the ISA remains a law that allows for detention without trial.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak promised to review the ISA when he came into office in April 2009. But the government continues to defend the need for detention without trial in the interest of “national security”. In the meantime, those who have been detained under the ISA tell stories of state abuse of power and torture.

In this second of a series of interviews with former ISA detaineesThe Nut Graph speaks with Mat Sah Mohd Satray and his wife, Norlaila Othman, about his arrest and detention under the ISA in April 2002. Mat Sah, a technician from Dewan Bahasa and Pustaka, was arrested together with 13 other suspects for allegedly being involved in terrorist organisations.

Mat Sah and Norlaila were separated for seven years during his detention

Mat Sah was only released from the Kamunting detention centre in September 2009. And it was only on 12 June 2010 that police removed all restrictions on his movement. Mat Sah and Norlaila, who became an active member of Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA (GMI), spoke to The Nut Graph on 16 June 2010 at their Gombak home.

TNG: Mat Sah ditangkap pada 17 April 2002. Boleh ceritakan apa yang berlaku pada masa itu?

Mat Sah: Polis datang rumah pada pukul 12 malam, masa itu hanya ada saya, isteri, dan anak saya yang berumur lapan tahun dalam rumah. Saya belum tidur lagi, dengar ada bunyi depan, saya pun pergi tengok. Masa itu gelap, tetapi saya nampak ada seorang polis pakai uniform. Dia tanya saya, “Boleh cakap dalam?” Saya pun buka pintulah, lepas itu tujuh, lapan orang terus masuk dan gari tangan saya.

Saya tanya mengapa gari saya, dia cakap, “Saya terima maklumat bahawa awak terlibat dalam aktiviti yang mengancam keselamatan negara.” Dia tak cakap di bawah ISA atau tunjukkan waran pun.

Lepas itu?

Norlaila: Lepas itu mereka mula menggeledah rumah kami sampai pukul empat pagi, buka almari, buka laci, baju dalam pun mereka semak, bawah katil, bawah cadar sampai bilik ketiga. Kami letak banyak buku dalam bilik ketiga, mereka seronok jumpa banyak kertas, setiap buku mereka semak, lepas itu mereka jumpa artikel saya, dalam artikel itu ada gambar Saari Sungib, seorang pemimpin NGO (badan bukan kerajaan) yang ditahan di bawah ISA pada tahun 2001. Mereka nampak gambarnya, terus kata, “Ini! Ada link dengan Saari Sungib!” dan terus ambil artikel saya. Artikel itu saya punya, tetapi yang kena tangkap suami saya.

Mereka juga ambil CD games seperti Star Wars, CPU komputer, telefon bimbit, dan kamera. Saya ambil gambar SB (Special Branch) dengan kamera filem itu. Saya tak tahu mereka takut kamera. SB rampas kamera padahal sebenarnya mereka boleh ambil filem sahaja. Apabila saya ambil balik barang-barang tersebut tiga minggu kemudian, semuanya sudah dirosakkan dan terpaksa dibuang.

Mat Sah: Selepas mereka habis geledah, saya dibawa ke dalam sebuah van putih, depan duduk dua orang polis, belakang dua orang, sebelah satu orang, escort ada satu van lagi. Mereka bawa saya dari rumah pergi ke IPD (Ibu Pejabat Polis Daerah) Ampang. Selepas lebih kurang setengah jam, saya dibawa ke balai polis Sentul, ambil gambar di sana, mereka tak tanya soalan pun.

Sampai hampir terang, naik van sekali lagi, mata saya ditutup degan kacamata hitam, sampai destinasi baru dia buka.

Report on Mat Sah’s arrest in 2004; he is pictured bottom right

Mereka bawa you ke mana ni?

Mat Sah: Pada masa itu saya tak tahu, saya dikurung selama 59 hari di sana. Selepas itu, baru saya dapat tahu tempat itu Police Remand Centre dekat Jalan Ipoh.

Sampai sana, dia suruh saya buka baju, semua pakaian ditanggalkan termasuk seluar dalam, dia check lah.

Lepas itu, dia bagi satu baldi, baju uniform lockup, cawan plastic untuk minum, sabun sebiji, tuala kecil, itulah untuk lap muka dan mandi, berus gigi dengan Colgate. Berus gigi itu dia potong sampai pendek sahaja; dia kata, “Takut nanti you bunuh diri.”

Dalam bilik yang saya tinggal itu ada satu katil simen, tak ada tingkap, hanya lubang-lubang kecil di atas dinding, kena selalu mandi kerana panas. Makanan yang dibaginya, macam apa yang YB Teresa [Kok] cakap, memang teruk. Ada satu kali dia bagi makanan basi.

Saya diberi nombor 095 di sana, selama saya di situ, dia tak panggil nama, saya sudah tak ada nama, dia panggil nombor saya sahaja.

Dalam dua bulan itu, hanya tigu minggu saja saya dikenakan interrogation, yang lain itu hanya duduk dalam bilik itu. Mereka panggil saya pada pukul sembilan pagi, dibawa ke sebuah bilik, dalam bilik kecil itu ada dua, tiga air-con pasang kuasa penuh, beberapa jam duduk situ. Mahu buang air pun mereka tak bagi pergi ke tandas, bagi botol.

Selalu ada tiga officers, seorang buat kita senang, pujuk-pujuk: “Mau makan apa? Minum apa?” Seorang lagi buat kita marah, dia akan tanya soalan macam: “Bagaimana you buat seks dengan isteri?”

So selepas dikurung dua bulan di sana, baru you dihantar ke Kamunting?

Mat Sah: Ya, semasa di sana, tiap-tiap pagi kena bangun pada pukul tujuh nyanyi Negaraku. Dua tahun pertama saya buat, lepas itu saya tak ikut lagi.

Mana ada pemulihan? Saya di sana dua tahun pertama, mereka tak tahu nak buat apa dengan saya, mereka selalu tanya saya, “Nak buat program apa?”

Ada bacaan tak di sana?

Mat Sah: Sana ada suratkhabar, Utusan (Malaysia) dan NST (New Straits Times). Pada masa saya masuk ada perpustakaan tetapi tutup. Selepas beberapa tahun baru dibuka balik.

Renewal of Mat Sah’s two-year detention period in 2004, 2006 and 2008

Bila isteri boleh jumpa you?

Mat Sah: Tiap-tiap minggu boleh, tetapi untuk 45 minit sahaja. Itupun bercakap guna interkom dan dipisahkan dengan dinding cermin.

Pernah masuk cell confinement?

Norlaila: Dia pertama kali masuk cell confinement pada tahun 2005 kerana akak. Masa itu saya ambush (Menteri Dalam Negeri) Pak Lah (Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) untuk menyampaikan surat memintanya membebaskan semua tahanan ISA. Hari berikutnya, dia dimasukkan ke dalam cell confinement.

SB juga marah apabila saya menulis tentang penahanan Tan Hoon ChengTeresa Kok, dan RPK (Raja Petra Kamarudin) dalam blog saya. Apabila SB marah, suami saya didenda SB!

Mat Sah: SB akan bagi warning: “Isteri awak terlalu aktif dengan GMI, nanti you lambat bebas.” Tetapi bila saya tanya mereka kenapa tahanan-tahanan lain yang isteri mereka tidak aktif dengan GMI tidak dibebaskan pun, mereka tak dapat jawab.

Pernahkah mereka menggunakan kekerasan terhadap you?

Mat Sah: Pernah sekali, pegawai-pegawai kem memukul dan mendenda semua tahanan JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) dan KMM (Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia). Mereka tuduh kami simpan senjata bahaya dalam kem. Tetapi pisau lipat, gunting, dawai dan klip kertas yang mereka temui semasa pemeriksaan blok sebenarnya adalah alatan yang kami gunakan untuk program handikraf kita. Peralatan itu semua disediakan oleh pihak kem.

Dalam kejadian itu saya ditumbuk, disepak, ditolak ke lantai dalam keadaan kedua-dua tangan saya digari ke belakang dan tercedera. Dada saya berasa sakit dan saya minta nak pergi jumpa doktor tetapi tidak dilayan. Saya dibawa berjumpa doktor hanya setelah tiga hari.

Norlaila: Apabila di Hospital Taiping, doktor cakap tulang rusuk kirinya ada retakan selepas tengok x-ray, tetapi bila peguam nak pastikan betul ke ada retak di tulang, doktor kata tak ada apa-apa masalah. Dia pun tunggu luka itu sembuh sendiri.

Document declaring Mat Sah’s release

Ada apa perbezaan dalam layanan terhadap tahanan-tahanan?

Mat Sah: Peraturan sama sahaja, cuma nak dapat apa-apa kena request lah. Bukan setiap kali dapat, mahu telefon pun susah. Tetapi apabila tahanan Hindraf masuk, mereka semua boleh dapat macam-macam kemudahan, termasuk buat panggilan telefon. Selain itu, dalam kantin, tahanan Melayu atau Cina [kerakyatan Malaysia] kongsi guna satu dapur, tetapi Hindraf ada dapur sendiri kerana mereka tak makan daging.

Norlaila: Semasa Hindraf ditahan, bila saya pergi sana, kami kena cakap melalui interkom. Hindraf di sebelah sana pulak, boleh pegang, boleh kiss, kemudian boleh pesan makanan yang dijual di kantin kem, pesan roti canai, chapati, semuanya boleh.

Saya pandu dari Kuala Lumpur ke Taiping selama lapan jam pergi balik setiap minggu untuk jumpa suami tetapi hanya berpeluang bercakap melalui interkom selama 45 minit. Tetapi Hindraf, kalau mereka dua minggu tidak jumpa, mereka boleh jumpa selama tiga jam.

Apa yang berlaku selepas Mat Sah dibebaskan?

Mat Sah: Memang banyak berubah. Balik rumah rasa terlalu banyak barang, ada sofa, meja. Dalam kem tak ada apa-apa pun. Isteri sibuk dengan aktiviti GMI dan anak juga sudah ada fikiran sendiri, tetapi saya boleh faham lah. Cuma semasa bertemu dengan orang luar, rasa kekok dan lain. Saya rasa macam orang lain sudah tahu saya tahanan ISA. Saya khuatir orang itu akan anggap saya orang jahat. Mungkin orang lain tak fikir begitu, tetapi saya sendiri akan fikir begitulah, kena adjust lah.