A drug bust and changed lives in Kuala Lumpur

This is a story of corruption and police abuse that was sent to Malaysiakini (15 October 2005). Its worth being retold:

What started out as a regular night for a friend, whom I shall call Jack, and I, turned into something ugly. We and two dozen others were detained, handcuffed, jailed, degraded, stripped, extorted and shamed.

It was a drug bust at a famous night club in Sri Hartamas, Kuala
Lumpur. An incident that all of us, later proved innocent by hospital
chemical tests, will never forget.

The entry (Sept 24 – 10.30pm)

It was a great day, in fact, a great week, I was looking forward to
this weekend. Nothing special, just a night out for a glass of wine
and to Soda, a popular club in the area. Nothing could have forewarned
me of the humiliation that awaited.

Soda (12pm)

After the wine, we made our way to Soda. Some other friends were
already there. We had a few more drinks, enjoyed the music and the
company.

The raid (2am)

Came out from the washroom and there was a policeman on the
microphone. It was a drug bust, he announced and nobody could leave
until urine samples were taken and tested. Fine I thought. No problem,
just quickly take my urine and get it tested so I could go out and
grab something to eat.

Problem is, there were a few hundred of us in the club and they did
the test 10 at a time. From the time of the raid, it would end up
taking them more than two hours to check all of us.

My turn came and I did as instructed, urinated into the plastic
container and handed it over for the ‘on-the-spot’ test. They dropped
the container in the instant tester, left it in for about a minute.
The result showed that I had tested positive for five of the six drugs
on the list. I knew this was a mistake so naturally I remained calm.

I was then herded into a cordoned off area and had to wait till 7am
for the police truck to pick us up. While waiting, we requested for a
re-test but this was denied.

We were told that our urine samples were to be taken to a hospital
laboratory for conclusive tests.

The pick up (7am)

After a long wait, the truck finally arrived at 7am. We were not told
anything, we did not know what was going to happen. And when they did
tell us, the policemen came out with different answers.

We got into the truck. It was degrading because we were law abiding
citizens who had never done anything wrong, except probably speeding
on the highway. And here we were, being herded into a police truck
used for rounding up bad hats.

We were taken to the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters and made to sit
on the floor until 11am. We were treated rudely, one policeman had
even threatened to beat a fellow detainee. Mind you, we were all
proved innocent in the end and these policemen in the narcotics
department treated us like convicts and did not entertain any
questions. We did not know our rights, we were not informed of our
rights and the police took advantage of that.

We were later told to sign a document. When I tried to read the
document, I was told off by a policeman. “No need to read the
document,” he said. “Just sign!” Still in disbelief over what was
happening but confident that it will be settled by the afternoon, I
signed.

Till this day, I do not know what I signed.

At 11am we were again herded back into the blue truck. I did not know
where they were taking us.

Pudu Jail (11am)

The truck took us to Pudu jail, the disused facility, which once
housed murderers, rapists and drug dealers. This building was not
built to house people like us. Think of your saddest moment, where
your heart sinks and your spirit dies, and you would be able to relate
to how we felt.

Most of us were still in denial. We still thought that everything will
be fine and that we will be out soon.

We were placed in the prison yard and made to sit in rows of three. We
had not eaten or drank since last night, but we were not hungry. Then
a policeman showed up, a good ‘samaritan’. He offered us some bread
and water and proceeded to collect RM10 from all of us. That would
mean RM200 plus.

A few hours later we were put in handcuffs. Imagine being in a
handcuff, chained together with all the others and led out into the
street.

We were herded once again into a truck and brought before a magistrate.

The magistrate (1pm or so)

The magistrate was at the Cheras police station, we were told there
that there was no chance for bail because it was a Sunday and the
court was not open. I voiced my objection and requested for a re-test
for obvious reasons. We were told that the magistrate was powerless to
act on anything. All they did was read to us that we were suspected
drug addicts and that we will be remanded for 12 days until a court
date or bail was set. This was Monday at the earliest.

The entire proceeding was held while we were still in handcuffs and
chained together. I was later told that when I left the room the lady
magistrate had remarked, “All these rich kids, they are all like
that”.

Even the magistrate was blissfully ignorant of what was happening and
had decided on our guilt before a trial.

The proceeding was over within an hour and we were once again herded
into the blue police truck.

Back to jail (2pm – till the next day)

We are back in jail. Shortly after, we were called to sit on the
prison pavement again to wait for our prison clothes. Names were
called out individually. Each person was called into a room to collect
our prison clothes. It was a simple process yet took a long time. I
did not know why until some of the accused came out of the room.

While in the room, the police offered a cigarette in apparent
goodwill. So some of them took the offer. With such frayed nerves,
anything was welcomed to help take the pain away. After the accused
took the cigarette, RM10 was taken out of their wallets. A robbery had
taken place, and the robbers were the policemen, and they were walking
free… in jail.

They couldn’t steal from me though. Simply because I had no cash. I
had passed them to Jack’s mother when she came earlier. So naturally
they did not offer me a cigarette.

Prison clothes consisted of only a pair of track pants. Just a single
piece. No shirt, no underwear and no shoes. We were to stay in prison
with nothing else but a pair of pants.

When we made our way through the walkway into the main prison
compound, we were in shock. All the prisons you have seen on TV were
nothing compared to the horrid conditions of Pudu jail. Everybody in
prison was frail thin and bony. The only fat people were the
policemen. We were told to put our belongings into a cell and leave
them there, we were then made to strip naked and squat in front of the
other inmates. I had never done anything wrong in my life, why was I
being treated this way?!! It was degrading. It angered me.

After that was out of the way, we were put six to a cell, measuring 2m
by 3m. There were no beds, no toilet and no ventilation. Just concrete
walls and a concrete platform. If you wanted to urinate, you had to do
it in a bottle inside the cell.

It was now almost 6pm and all we had for three-quarter’s of a day was
a small piece of bread and a small bottle of mineral water. Food
finally came. It was indescribable. A pack of rice with a salted fish
head measuring no more than 4cm and two pieces of vegetable no larger
than a 50 sen coin. It was just meant to keep you alive. Just barely
alive.

We just sat there for the rest of our stay, being let out only to
bathe and defecate three times a day for 10 minutes. Some took the
situation harder than me. Somehow, the anger had numbed me. So I joked
and we talked, just to diffuse the situation and to allow ourselves to
forget this experience.

Then there was more daylight robbery and corruption. We were told that
our relatives could visit and that they could bring food and other
condiments and supplies to us… for a price! Yes… they were asking
for money even in jail. RM150 must be paid to them so the items could
be brought in.

However, that does not guarantee that the items will reach us. I had
friends whose relatives paid the police for the food to be brought in.
A whole bucket of fried chicken was reduced to three pieces and a
burger. Not only were the police corrupt, but they were sadistic and
sick enough to eat the prisoners’ food. Why they were all fat was no
longer a mystery.

Not only did we have to bribe them for food, but a single phone call
cost RM150, which must be paid by the visiting relative or friend.
Jack got away with RM50, supposedly credited to the policeman’s
pre-paid line by his mother. Somehow the policeman missed it and even
dared to SMS Jack’s mother after we got out, asking ‘where’s the
money’. Not only was it daylight robbery, it was daring and I guess he
must have felt invincible while wearing the police badge.

Take note that none of our parents or relatives were informed that we
were being held. We had to personally call them.

We spent the night in prison, sleeping on our bare backs on the cold
damp concrete floor. The air was stale, there were other inmates
yelling ‘tolong..tolong’ (help…help).

It was a dreadful and excruciatingly slow night. All we had was each other.

The courthouse (Sept 26 – 8am)

Morning came and a large group of our parents, relatives and friends
were waiting at the court house to bail us out. Most of them reached
there early and were informed that the bail documents would be out
first thing in the morning.

The bail documents only came out at 11am. And everybody was told that
they had to open a bank account, deposit the bail money and make it
back to the court house with all the paperwork in order by 12pm. That
was exactly one hour.

Everyone rushed to the bank, one single bank with only a few
operational lines. The queue was long and processing took forever.
According to my loved ones, it was the most stressing time of their
lives. Because if they did not make it back to the court house by 12,
then I would have to stay another night in jail.

A few ended up having to stay another night. Keep in mind that 22 of
us were proven to be innocent by clinical tests. Yet some of these
wrongly accused people had to spend three days and two nights in
prison.

We put on our civilian clothes and were once again handcuffed. Once
again, my heart died and my soul withered. We were brought to the
court and I was sickened once again by the antics of the policemen.

We were in the van going by the heart of Kuala Lumpur when these two
escorting policemen slid open the window and started whistling at a
woman walking down the street. These were our policemen. I was
sickened to the bone.

We all reached the courthouse and were led through the street still in
handcuffs and in full view of the public and our loved ones. We were
told by the court that we will be set free on bail. We were given some
documents informing us where and when to collect the results of the
hospital tests for our urine and when to show up in court again.

We were told to collect our blood tests results from the Brickfields
police station on Oct 2.

The recovery

I got out on Sept 26. I was driving past the Kuala Lumpur Twin Towers
that night and I felt that it did not mean anything anymore. I used to
be proud to be Malaysian, the twin towers used to be a source of
pride. But now, all my nationalistic pride was gone, I had just been
treated like a criminal by my own country. A country which I loved…
used to love. I used to think that this country was beautiful. But now
all I see is a country so currupted and dirty. No amount of washing
will clean away this feeling.

The verdict (Oct 2)

It was time to collect our results. We showed up at the Brickfields
police station where 22 of us were pronounced clean and had to make
our way to the court house. I asked for documentation to state that we
were clean. But the policemen said there was no documentation and that
they would call the court house to inform them. No documentation in an
advanced economy like ours, this was unacceptable.

Nevertheless, we all made our way to the court house and there, we
were proclaimed innocent and free to go. Again, I asked for
documentation to state that we were cleared of all charges and that we
were free to go. But there was no documentation. No black and white.
So technically, we had to trust the word of this court official, whose
name or rank we did not know.

The anger (now till justice is served)

The 22 of us will never be the same again. Malaysia will never be the
same again.

I was once a fun loving jovial person. Food no longer taste good, the
sky seems perpetually cloudy and everybody I meet looks different.

My girlfriend had asked if this experience had changed me. I replied
‘maybe’… and she cried.

About Greg Lopez

Greg Lopez is a Visiting Fellow at the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University.