His side of the story

By Razak Ahmad and Gan Pei Ling © The Star 13 August 2017

Thirty years ago, a soldier armed with an assault rifle ran amok in Kuala Lumpur. The case created an urban legend linking the rampage to a rumour against a Sultan that has never been properly addressed until now. A book based on interviews with key figures involved in the case shines a light on what really happened.

ON Oct 17, 1987, Adam Jaafar, a 23-year-old soldier with the rank of Prebet, stole an M16 rifle and a motorcycle from his army camp in Ipoh.

The army Ranger Regiment sharpshooter travelled to Kuala Lumpur at a time when political tension was high. The next night, he wrote a message on his hotel room mirror: “A damned night for Adam. Mission: to kill or be killed.”

He left his hotel and went on a shooting spree in the city’s Chow Kit area that left one person dead from a bullet ricochet and several others wounded.

Prebet Adam shot at cars and at a petrol station fuel tank which burst into flames. He eventually surrendered and at his trial, his lawyer argued a defence of temporary insanity.

The case gave rise to one of Malaysia’s most enduring urban legends – that his rampage was allegedly an act of revenge for the death of his younger brother at the hands of the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Rumours went around back then that Adam’s brother was supposedly a golf caddy who had laughed when Sultan Iskandar Ibni Almarhum Sultan Ismail of Johor missed a shot.

The late Sultan had supposedly hit Adam’s brother on the head with a golf club and the caddy died, according to the rumour.

It’s been three decades but the urban legend still survives, spread at first by word of mouth, then on the Internet.

Google the case and one will get a long list of results drawn from blog entries and Facebook comments, with some insisting it is true.

The urban legend on what drove Adam to run amok was raised at a forum on Monday night to discuss a book written about the case.

“It’s true Prebet Adam has a younger sibling who died, but it was a sister, who died in a fire when they were children.

“Prebet Adam did not have any sibling who died at a golf course,” said Syahril A. Kadir, the author.

His book, Konfesi Prebet Adam, was published last year by DuBook Press Sdn Bhd. It was followed by an English translation, “Amok at Chow Kit”, last month.

The book is based on interviews with key figures in the case. It includes first person accounts by Adam himself, his lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Leftenan Jeneral (R) Datuk Abdul Ghani Abdullah, the military officer who managed to persuade Adam to surrender.

Syahril, Shafee and Abdul Ghani were present at the forum but notably absent was Adam himself.

Copies of various documents are also in the book. Most striking is a signed statutory declaration by Adam in which he denied having a sibling who worked as a caddy in a golf club and who was apparently hit by Sultan Iskandar.

If the late Sultan of Johor had nothing to do with triggering Adam’s rampage, what did?

The answer lies in Adam’s traumatic childhood and abuse he later suffered in the army camp which drove him over the edge.

Adam grew up in extreme poverty. And when he was 11, he witnessed the death of his six-year-old sister Azimah during a fire that razed their squatter home in Simpang Lelong, Penang.

“She was just a few steps away from us, when suddenly the roof gave in and fell heavily on her small body,” Adam recounted to Syahril in the book.

“Azimah was found by the firemen underneath all the rubble in a devastating condition.

“One of her arms and legs were torn from her body. I could not bear to talk about the rest of her remains. My heart hurts at the thought of the pain my sister must have felt,” Adam added.

He suffered a head injury when a beam fell on him during the fire. Earlier in his teens, he suffered a wound to his head when he got into a fight in which he got hacked with a machete that left him with a three-inch scar.

Being accepted into the army brought the promise of a better future for the depressed young man.

Adam was desperate for a life of dignity but his joy over being in the army was shortlived. Having spent some time in the reserve army, Adam expected some ragging by seniors. But he did not expect the sadistic brutality they would resort to.

“My hands got burn marks from being treated as a human ashtray. I was forced to lick the bottom of a slipper like a dog and drink water mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, belacan, curry and sugar,” he recalled.

Some of his seniors would also bring their civilian friends to witness it.

He was beaten up regularly. The last straw was when his tormentors forced him to perform oral sex on one of the soldiers.

During Adam’s trial, psychiatrist Tan Sri Dr M. Mahadevan, who would examine Adam and testify in court during his three-year trial between 1988 and 1990, explained how Adam’s childhood trauma, head injuries and brutal abuse in camp had affected his mental state.

Justice Datuk Seri Shaik Daud Md Ismail in his verdict ruled that Adam was not of sound mind when he committed the shooting.

He ordered Adam to be sent for treatment at a mental hospital where he was kept for close to 10 years.

The former soldier insists that he is not seeking public sympathy by telling his life story.

What he hopes is to dispel the urban legend, clear the names of those unfairly implicated and apologise to the kin and family of the late Che Soh Che Mahmud, the young man he accidentally killed during his rampage.

“I apologise from the bottom of my heart for what had happened. I swear by the name of Allah, I never intended to shoot him.”

He has also forgiven his abusers in the army, who were subsequently tried by a court martial, found guilty, and sentenced to prison.

“To the officers who demeaned and abused me when I was in camp, I forgive them and everything they had done.

“I just hope they realise that they can do whatever it takes to produce strong and excellent soldiers, but never deny them their dignity, love and pride they have in beloved Malaysia,” said Adam.

The men behind Prebet Adam’s freedom

PREBET Adam Jaafar owes his life to two key individuals.

If it was not for Leftenan Jeneral (R) Datuk Abdul Ghani Abdullah who persuaded Adam to surrender peacefully, he could have been killed during his standoff with the police on Oct 19, 1987. And if it was not for his defence lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah who convinced the judge he was not of sound mind when he ran amok, Adam might have been doomed for the gallows.

Abdul Ghani was the Assistant Commander for the Ground Forces Operation when he received news of a soldier going on a rampage in Chow Kit.

By the time he arrived near Wisma Sabaruddin where Adam had hid himself, sharp-shooters from the police force had positioned themselves around the vicinity.

Abdul Ghani tried using a loud hailer to persuade Adam to surrender but to no avail.

Undeterred, Abdul Ghani told Adam that his family and girlfriend wanted him to stop the madness. He volunteered to meet Adam alone.

He sent back an army officer who tried to follow him into Wisma Sabaruddin to protect him.

When he came face-to-face with Adam, he took off his bullet-proof vest to gain his trust. He addressed Adam as a Ranger.

“This act softened his heart and demeanour little by little. During the negotiation, Adam looked lost, scared and confused,” Abdul Ghani recalled in the book Konfesi Prebet Adam authored by Syahril A. Kadir.

Shafee, who is a former student of the Royal Military College (RMC), said he decided to take on Adam’s case pro bono after getting a call from a fellow lawyer and officer in the army reserve.

Shafee would spend more than RM100,000 on Adam’s case, including to hire experts like psychiatrist Tan Sri Dr M. Mahadevan to defend Adam.

“I took on Adam’s case as it was a big challenge and because he would have been hanged if I didn’t help him,” Shafee said, adding that as a former RMC student, he felt he had a responsibility to do what he could to help a military man in trouble.

One of the biggest mysteries about the case has been about the urban legend that linked the rampage to the then Sultan of Johor. This was not true.

How then, did the urban legend come about?

In the book, Adam in his own words claimed that he first heard of the allegation during a police interrogation that baffled him until now.

“Every time I was interrogated, it was always prefaced with ‘I pity you, Adam… it was because of the Agong that you’re in this state,” Adam recalled.

He did not identify who the interrogators were but explained that when he finally gave in and began nodding to the officers’ questions to implicate the royalty, the officers began theorising that his rampage was a conspiracy.

Adam claimed to the author of the book that the interrogators theorised that the conspiracy was orchestrated.

“They alleged that individuals were behind my action in a bid to divert public attention away from the problems that were plaguing the Malaysian leadership at that time,” the book quoted Adam as saying.

Asked about the conspiracy theory, Shafee said the matter was never raised in court by the prosecution. The defence also did not raise the issue.

Shafee said Adam could not remember a lot of what happened due to his state of mind at the time, and his defence partly relied on this.

“If we showed that Adam could remember such details about the interrogation, it could have prejudiced his defence.”

Shafee said that Adam’s case was investigated by the police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and that his case also involved the Internal Security Act.

“It was not the CID who were asking questions about the conspiracy.

“It was as if there was an attempt to create a presumption and plant the idea in Adam’s head that his brother was supposedly killed by the then Sultan of Johor.

“The person or people who tried to put this idea in Adam’s head knew he already had a problem with his state of mind, so someone took advantage of this.”

Shafee said after Adam’s release from Tanjung Rambutan, Adam would look him up whenever he had a case in Penang.

He said there are lessons to be learnt from the case, including the importance of listening to both sides of the story.

“To me, Adam is a victim of circumstance; all he wanted was to be good soldier but he was bullied to such an extent.”

Review to stop illegal wildlife trade

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 8 July 2017

BENTONG: The Transport Ministry will review its transshipment procedures in a bid to curb the illegal wildlife trade, its minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said.

“We support Hong Kong’s seizure of illegal elephant ivory because we won’t allow this sort of illegal activity to go through our port,” he said after attending a Hari Raya celebration at Felda Sungai Kemahal.

He was commenting on Hong Kong Custom’s seizure of 7.2 tonnes of tusks, valued at about HK$72mil (RM40mil), in a 12.19m (40ft) container shipped from Malaysia on Tuesday.

Liow said all shipments destined to enter the country were screened thoroughly but only random checks were conducted on transshipments.

“Definitely we’ll look through the procedures again,” he said.

He said the ministry had previously strengthened the transshipment policy to enable authorities to keep better tabs on goods entering its ports.

“I suspect there is manipulation of the (customs) manifest,” he said.

Illegal wildlife trade watchdog Traffic South-East Asia acting regional director Kanitha Krishnasamy said smugglers could be shifting to seaports due to several seizures of trafficked wildlife at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

“The onus to end Malaysia’s reputation as an illegal trade hub falls not only on enforcement agencies but also port and airport authorities, logistics providers and the Transport Ministry.

“The fact that these shipments were being identified and searched as a result of risk assessments should show port and airport authorities how serious the situation is for Malaysia,” she said.

Liow said he organises celebrations at every village in his constituency during Hari Raya and this year’s will continue until July 25.

Troupe drums up support to perform in France’s folk art fests

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 3 July 2017

Beating a path: The Orang Orang Drum Theatre and JB Drum Enterprise will be bringing the 24 festive drum performance to eight folk art festivals in France.

KUALA LUMPUR: A troupe of Malaysian Chinese drummers tirelessly raised enough funds to fly themselves to France this Wednes­day to perform at eight interna­tional folk art festivals from July 7 to Aug 22.

The team includes 20 profes­sional and part-time drummers from the Orang Orang Drum Thea­tre and JB Drum Enterprise.

“Whenever we perform overseas, people always ask if we’re from China or Taiwan.

“This is our way of showcasing the Malaysian Chinese story,” said Leow Sze Yee, 35, who is one of the more seasoned performers in the troupe.

“We’ve prepared four performances.

“Two are pure 24-festive drum performances while the other two are a fusion of the 24 festive drums with other Malaysian traditional folk instruments like the Malay kompang.”

Leow, who picked up drumming two decades ago, co-founded the theatre with her husband Boyz Chew, 36, in 2013.

Since then, the Orang Orang Drum Theatre has been invited to perform in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.

When the theatre received the invite from France last year, it extended the opportunity to the JB Drum Enterprise.

Founded in 2006, JB Drum often performed locally besides Singapore and China.

Leow added that their signature 24-festive drum performance, An Era, relates the story of Chinese immigrants in Malaya.

The two drumming groups raised about RM90,000 to fund their flight tickets to France.

Their foreign hosts will cover accommodation, food and local transport.

Leow’s younger brother, Damien, 29, who studied theatre in France previously, has been giving French classes to the troupe in preparation for the trip.

Tok Yong Shan, 18, the group’s youngest performer, is excited and anxious to participate in the six-week tour and visit Europe for the first time.

“We learned a bit of French but I don’t know if that’s enough to converse with the locals,” said the school leaver from SMK Taman Desa Skudai.

Tok picked up drumming after being pressured by her friends to join the 24-festive drum classes when she was in Form One.

Her friends eventually dropped out while Tok stayed on as her passion for drumming grew.

Upon their return, the group will be performing at the George Town Festival on Sept 1 and 2.

They presented a token of appreciation to their sponsors, including Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall yesterday.

Tan Chai Puan, who founded the 24 festive drums with the late Tan Hooi Song in 1988, was also present at the press conference.

At one with nature

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 28 June 2017

PUTRAJAYA: Cy­cling has led landscape architect Charles Teo to discover a hidden haven for birds in the administrative capi­­tal.

“It’s a peaceful place where many migratory birds have made their home.

“It shows that hu­­mans can bring back nature with proper planning,” Teo said when met at the Upper Bisa 1 in Pre­­cinct 16.

Storks, egrets and herons can be spotted roosting or nesting in Putrajaya Wetlands Park.

Teo, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, makes it a point every week to cycle and appreciate nature with his friends, or on his own to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Putrajaya is one of his favourite cycling spots as its parks are interconnected and safe.

It is also home to the largest man-made wetland in the country.

“I can appreciate the scenery, birds and architecture while I cycle,” he said, adding that joggers and cyclists throng some of the more popular routes here until midnight.

Teo believed it is important for town planners to create spaces where humans and nature can co-exist peacefully.

“Putrajaya is a good example. Before it was developed, this area was just made up of estates.

“Now, even within the city, there is this quiet space where migratory birds can call home,” he said.

Teo has suggested to Putrajaya Corporation to put up information boards about the city’s architecture so that visitors can better appreciate the significance of the buildings and bridges.

“Cycling then will not just be a recreational activity but also an educational experience,” he said.

Apart from parks, Teo also enjoys cycling along the coastal route in his hometown Penang, which stretches from the south of the island to George Town.

He plans to join the Ride for Malaysia cycling event on July 30 at Sunsuria City in Sepang, co-organised by the Star Media Group and property developer Sunsuria Bhd to inspire national unity and patriotism in the run-up to National Day.

The event is an opportunity for people of all ages and cultures to come together and enjoy the outdoors.

For more information and to register, go to sites.thestar.com.my/rideformalaysia. For group bookings, call 03-7967 1388 and ask for Events.

A driving passion to care for senior citizens

by GAN PEI LING © The Star 12 June 2017

KUALA LUMPUR: As the founder of two old folks homes, Cheong Loy is responsible for the welfare of some 84 senior citizens.

Asked what it takes to run the homes, the humble businessman replied: “Not very much.”

Cheong, 64, was running a funeral parlour business at the Kwong Tong Cemetery in 1999 when he allowed former hospital patients to live on the floor above his parlour.

“They needed to visit Hospital Kuala Lumpur frequently. Upstairs was vacant so I let them stay, then it spread by word of mouth,” Cheong recounted.

When he accepted senior citizens abandoned by their families in public hospitals, the space evolved into the old folks home that it is today.

“It all had to do with the first lady resident, Siew Mun, who started cooking for the others. There were only about seven to eight people living upstairs then.

“If she had not volunteered to cook, we wouldn’t be able to accommodate more people,” Cheong said.

Now the Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre houses 64 residents at its original site at Jalan Dewan Bahasa and another 20 at Kampung Baru Salak Selatan.

Cheong bought two pieces of land at Kampung Baru Salak Selatan and planned to move all the residents to the Chinese new village eventually.

He spent more than RM1mil to buy the land and build the facilities.

Cheong also hired two Indonesian maids to take care of the residents at Jalan Dewan Bahasa and a driver to send them to hospitals for check-ups.

Most of the residents at Kampung Baru Salak Selatan are capable of taking care of themselves whereas those in Jalan Dewan Bahasa require more care due to their medical conditions.

Some are mentally ill while many others are bedridden.

“The care we provide is not perfect but it’s the best we can do,” Cheong said.

Yet, he has been scolded by some who denied abandoning their parents at the home and instead accused him of meddling in their family affairs.

“I believe strongly in filial piety and gratitude. I don’t know what the parents have done to make the children behave like that.

“But I hope my children would carry on taking care of them,” said Cheong.

Abandoned and pining for family

by GAN PEI LING and LOH FOON FONG © The Star 22 May 2017

Good Samaritan: Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre founder Cheong Loy checking on a senior citizen at the premises in Jalan Dewan Bahasa, Kuala Lumpur. The coffinmaker who runs the funeral parlour at the Kwong Tong Cemetery in Sg Besi started taking in abandoned elderly folk more than a decade ago.

EXCLUSIVE: KUALA LUMPUR: At first sight, it seems like most of them were just waiting to die.

The “normal” ones wear a forlorn look while those with mental illness stare into space.

These are the unwanted – senior citizens sent to old folks’ homes after being discharged from hospitals as their families do not want to take them home.

Most of the 50 residents at Al-Ikhlas Old Folks Care and Treat­ment Home at Kampung Pulau Meranti, Puchong, are bedridden.

They live with medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Sixteen caretakers look after them – feeding and bathing those with serious physical disabilities.

Former lorry driver Abu Abdul Talib, 52, lost the use of his right leg after being involved in a traffic accident in Singapore three or four years ago.

Resigned: Bored residents just sitting around at Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre in Salak Selatan.

He was sent here from Hospital Kuala Lumpur as his family in Teluk Intan, Perak, could not take care of him.

A dark mood descended over Abu as he spoke about his family, who visit him irregularly.

“I have four children, three are still in school and one is working. My wife works as a babysitter to support the family,” said Abu.

Aladib Abdullah, 74, from George Town, Penang, broke down during the interview.

He is no longer on good terms with his ex-wife while his son and daughter take turns to visit him.

“I’m losing my memory. I cannot remember many things. I miss my friends. Please come and visit me.

“We’re suffering not because we don’t have food or drinks. There’s something we miss in life,” said the former employee of an English daily.

Better than hospital: A resident napping at Al-Ikhlas Old Folks Care and Treatment Home.

The mood is lighter at Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre, where more residents are able to take care of themselves, at least partially.

Former butcher Hoo Chin Chan, 78, has been living at the centre in Jalan Dewan Bahasa for 11 years. This was after being discharged from UKM Medical Centre.

He was hospitalised for two to three months after a foot surgery and relies on a walking frame to get around now.

Hoo still visits the hospital for high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol checks. He has siblings but was not keen to talk about them.

“What more do you want to ask?” he said impatiently when asked more about his family history.

He only lightened up when the topic was switched to the living conditions at the centre, one floor above a funeral parlour.

“There’s nothing to complain. We’re given three meals a day and those who are fit can go out to buy food,” he said.

Hoo speaking at the Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre.

Volunteers would take the residents out to restaurants for their birthdays.

The centre also hires a driver to take the residents to hospitals for check-ups and they get RM50 each a month as pocket money.

Voluntary Chinese medicine practitioners take turns to check on the residents every week.

“It’s better than staying in the hospital,” said Ng Thiam Hock, 59, who lives at Tong Sim Senior Citizens Care Centre’s second home, a two-storey house at Kampung Baru Salak Selatan.

After recovering from tuberculosis in 2015, Ng was sent from the Selayang Hospital to an old folks home in Seremban before being transferred thanks to a friend’s referral.

“I have four siblings but they have their own families, so I don’t want to bother them,” said the former construction worker.

“It’s better than when I was working and living alone. Most of us become friends after living here for a while.

“We cook and clean after ourselves. The volunteers help us with more difficult chores like cleaning the windows and changing the curtains,” he added.