Malaysia theater exposes conditions of political detainees

"The play Bilik Sulit tells the story of people detained without trial under the countries controversial internal security act."

AUTHOR / Faidzal Mohtar MalaysiaKini

Malaysia theater exposes conditions of political detainees
Malaysia, ISA detained, Bilik Sulit, theater, MalaysiaKini

Life behind bars of political prisoners in Malaysia is being brought to the life in a new stage production. 

The play Bilik Sulit tells the story of people detained without trial under the countries controversial internal security act.

A full house for a play depicting the treatment of detainees in Malaysian jails. It’s the work of Hishamuddin Rais, a well known political activist. “The idea came from the collective memory of a lot of political prisoners; it’s a composite experience of many ISA detainees. The message is that detention without trial is wrong.  It is an abuse of human rights.” 

The Internal Security Act or ISA allowed for detention without trial. And a few detainees died in jail. Kua Kia Soong was detainee under the law for nearly 500 days. He was arrested in 1987 alongside 106 activists and opposition politicians accused of inciting racial tensions. 

“The majority of people who were detained under the ISA are there because they are being punished by the government more than because they are considered a threat to national security.”

He went on to found the rights group Suaram that put on this play. The group played a key role in getting the ISA law abolished in 2012. “Because we went through such horrible experience under the ISA we thought that we would never want people to go through this experience again.”

However they say their fight is far from over for them. There is still The Security Offenses Act and the Prevention of Crime Act that allow people to be detained without a trial. Ahmad Syukri Abd Razab is the Suaram Coordinator.

“Under these we have dangerous acts that allow the police to arrest people without trial. So our message with this theatre is that the people have to understand that if these laws are left alone there will be a risk of corporal punishment for the people who are detained similar to what happened with the ISA.”

The government believes these laws are still need to give police the power to be ‘pro-active’ in tackling crime. But Kua Kia believes the laws are still about political repression.  

“To me it’s just an old wine and new bottle you know. So we haven’t actually abolished detention without trial yet,” Kua Kia Soong says.

As part of their campaign they are taking the play overseas says the director Hishamuddin Rais. “We are going to go to United Kingdom for one month, we will be bringing this play to Malaysian community in the United Kingdom, to campaign against detention without trial. We will be the guest of amnesty international.” 


  • Malaysia
  • ISA detained
  • Bilik Sulit
  • theater
  • MalaysiaKini


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