Memali families still seek answers, want closure after 30 years

by Looi Sue-Chern
The Malaysian Insider
April 05, 2014

Almost 30 years on, the survivors of the Memali incident that resulted in the deaths of 14 villagers and four policemen want to see justice for the lost lives and the truth revealed about why it took place and who was responsible.

Their hope has been rekindled by former deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam’s revelation last week that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, who was prime minister at the time, was in Kuala Lumpur during the incident and contrary to media reports, not in China.

Now they want to know Dr Mahathir’s role in that incident.

Following this revelation, opposition MPs are now calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the incident.

For Saleha Husin, 61, whose husband Ibrahim Mahmud was at the centre of the police siege at the remote village in Baling, Kedah, an investigation would answer some of the questions on the minds of the families of those killed.

“It has been almost three decades. I don’t know what to say… but I would like some closure,” she told The Malaysian Insider.

“Our questions remain unanswered all these years,” she said.

Ibrahim, who was famously known as Ibrahim Libya, was an “influential” religious teacher and political leader who ran a religious school at his house in Kampung Charuk Putih.

Accused of spreading deviant teachings, he was the target of the police attack on the village on November 19, 1985. He was shot and killed along with others attending his class.

Saleha said Ibrahim was standing in front of her when he was shot.

“I ran to him when he was hit. A villager who was holding him laid his head on my lap.

“He was bleeding profusely… it was like water flowing from a tap. A short while later, I was told to surrender and get up.

“My husband was still alive then. He asked me what was going on. As I was forced to move away from him, I saw that others had been shot, too.”

Saleha was detained with more than 100 villagers who had allegedly “attacked” the police in the siege.

She said she was interrogated while in detention and asked all sorts of questions about Ibrahim’s alleged deviant teachings, with her late husband as made to sound like a criminal.

She said those who were detained like her were forced to admit that Ibrahim was spreading deviant teachings.

“I was detained for two months and seven days, most of it in the Alor Star prison after Tanjung Pari and Sungai Petani. There were no more interrogations at the Alor Star jail.”

When Saleha was released, she could not send for anyone to pick her up as she was only told at the last minute, so she took a taxi to her village.

“I found my home ransacked. My husband’s work space at home was in a mess and funds he kept for the use of the school, madrasah, surau and salary for teachers were gone,” she said.

Saleha had to pick her life up after that and take care of their five children. She now has 10 grandchildren, with two more expected to join the clan later this year.

She said she received RM20,000 as compensation for the death of her husband from the federal government in 2004, as did the other 13 widows from the village.

“We went to court for that but in the end, we had to settle out of court. We are kampung people so we just went with what the lawyer said.

“We were told that the court said the case was closed and since the lawyer went with it, we had little choice but to go along with it.

“The case never addressed the Memali incident. Our questions remain unanswered all these years,” she said.

For Zakaria Abdul Rahman, 52, who was arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) following the tragedy, revisiting the incident might bring justice for their torment and the lost lives.

He said the events of that day have haunted the villagers since.

“We just want the truth, the facts so we can one day put this all to rest,” he said.

Zakaria, whose father Abdul Rahman Jusoh was shot in the abdomen and died of the wounds about two months later, said the villagers had been accused of attacking the police and even trying to topple the government.

“How could we have managed to attack the police when it was the police, including the Federal Reserve Unit, who came to our village in the hundreds, armed?

“We were in shock when they shot Ibrahim and fired tear gas. We never expected the police to go to that extent. Could we have done all those things we were accused of while most of us were in shock?

“Do you think it is so easy to overthrow the government? If it were true, we would have been hanged a long time ago,” he said when met at the village earlier this week.

Zakaria said there was also never any evidence that Ibrahim was heading a deviant sect and that people had gone astray.

He described Ibrahim as outspoken and critical of the government, and because he was influential, he had made his political rivals uncomfortable.

“What is considered deviant and whose definition? Is being with PAS a deviant act?

“Ibrahim taught religion and the folks here looked to him for knowledge and had great respect for the man. He never asked the people to shield him.

“He also worked for government religious bodies, so we think he would have been the first to stop any deviant acts. The people looked up to him and that was why they defended him,” Zakaria said.

“If the authorities tried to arrest a revered priest or monk, surely his followers will react in the same manner,” he said, adding that Ibrahim refused to be taken by the police because he did not want to be detained without trial under the Internal Security Act.

Zakaria was one of 36 men from the village detained under the ISA in Kamunting for about six months after the incident.

Datuk Muhamad Yusof Husin, who is a PAS senator today, was accused of being their leader.

It was reported that 159 people, including women and children, were detained in the incident. Police later arrested 36 people under the ISA in January 1986 but released them five months later.

Zakaria said the siege, which could not have been planned overnight, was politically motivated during a time when things were tense between PAS and Umno.

He said the questions he was asked during his interrogation were mainly political.

“The way I see it, it was all about politics. Dr Mahathir, Musa and local Umno division leaders here also bickered about the Memali incident at the 1986 Umno general assembly.

“It did not happen the way they want people to believe. It is far from it. Those who died, died defending themselves and others.

“Whether Dr Mahathir was in town or not is not a big issue. What matters is justice for the people of Memali,” he said.

The villagers have also been dealing with stigma and misconceptions because of the incident, Zakaria said, adding that outsiders tended to think that Memali folk were violent and behaved like gangsters.

Most of Zakaria’s immediate family members were involved in or affected by the incident. His elder brother Md Yusop was a policeman at the time. Two days before the incident, Yusop was transferred out of the area.

Another two brothers in the police force were also transferred. One sent to Pahang.

Yusop, 58, who is retired, said the transfer raised the people’s suspicions that something big was brewing but there was little they could do.

“There were four of us Memali boys based here in the police force. All of us were given transfer letters.

“I was closely watched while I was in Alor Star, where I had been sent. I had no days off so they could keep me there.

“I learned about what happened watching the news on TV3. I continued working but I was in a daze. There was nothing I could do to change anything,” he said.

Another Memali resident and former ISA detainee Zaman Mahmud, 62, who is also known as Pak Teh Man, has also called for justice for the villagers and Ibrahim, whom he described as a good religious teacher.

He said before Ibrahim began teaching, the villagers in Memali had little religious knowledge.

“I was upset when I heard about Musa saying that Dr Mahathir was in Kuala Lumpur at the time. Many of us want to blame him since he is the prime minister.

“I hope the files will be opened again. I hope they investigate the incident properly.”

Musa revealed last week at a political discussion that Dr Mahathir was in Kuala Lumpur during the Memali incident.

Yesterday, Musa said in a statement that he and the then acting inspector-general of police had briefed Dr Mahathir on what happened in Memali.

Musa said he had asked Dr Mahathir to postpone his pending visit to China, but Dr Mahathir decided to depart for China.

Dr Mahathir has since said he could not remember if Musa was right as the incident occurred a long time ago.

Some bloggers have defended Dr Mahathir and posted snapshots of a list with names of people who went to China with him. – April 5, 2014.

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