Victim of racial profiling
Jan 4, 07 4:36pm Adjust font size:
Despite being a well-decorated Gulf War veteran, retired US Navy Yahweh Passim Nam said he was scared after he was held by the immigration officers. Here is his story.
I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 9, 2006 from Bali, Indonesia, traveling on vacation. I stopped in KL to see the wonderful Twin Towers.
On Nov 16, at 7.20pm I was walking in Chinatown in KL, going to a flower shop to purchase a vase for some flowers I had previously bought for the hostel manager at the Red Dragon Inn.
At that time, I was approached by two men each about 5 feet 11 inches tall in civilian clothes. One grabbed my arm on the left side with a firm grip and asked me to come with them, the other was asking for my passport. At this time I became scared thinking that I was about to be robbed. I told them my passport is in my hotel locked up in a safe place.
I thought I could manhandle them and raise my voice so that someone else could help me or break away or hopefully I would get the attention of a policeman in uniform. I asked the man to my left who are you and why do you want me to come with you, the man on my left said they were the police and they needed to see my passport.
At that time I pointed to my hotel which was just a block away from the flower shop and said my hotel is just there, which was the opposite way they wanted me to go. I told them in plain English I am a US citizen, escort me to my hotel and I will proof this. I was ignored as I walked about 20 feet with these men.
The firm grip on my arm became firmer and at this time both men were holding each arm and when I started to resist I noticed one of the men reaching for some handcuffs on his waist. I said in a loud outburst I am an American citizen before I go anywhere I want see some identification or a badge or something to proof that I was being escorted/carried off against my will by an official of the government.
At this time, a crowd had formed around me and the men. I thought finally someone has heard my cry. My eyes were almost in tears. I asked again, please let me see some identification. The man that was reaching for his handcuffs instead reached for his wallet and only showed me what looked like a fake ID card with no police insignia or a badge that looked official.
At this time I started talking loudly at people in the crowd to please help me. I am an American citizen here on holiday and these men are trying to rob me, and my passport is my hotel within walking distance.
One of the people in the crowd said to the men to take me to my hotel and let me get my passport. At this time, it was like the men became more on a mission to get me to go with them instead of believing what I was saying and what the crowd was telling them. I thought, well, if I was being robbed they would only get my credit card and my money because my passport was locked up in my hotel in a safe place.
I was taken to an unknown location under a bridge. This is where the story started to unfold a bit. There I saw a military truck of some sort with a big cage on the back of it containing about 10 to 15 African men, ages 18 and up and a congregation of Malaysian men with walkie talkies.
I was thinking either I was a victim of some sort of racial profiling or victim of some hate group that was killing all the Africans because I had yet to see something of proof that I was being arrested or taken in to custody by some official of the government.
I was scared! I had started to try and remember faces of the people involved but it was just so many men that looked like the same nationality/race. At that time, I was taken to what seemed to be the leader of the klan, also in civilian clothes. This man had a walkie talkie a bandanna tied around his head, and a official-looking badge hanging around his neck.
I said to myself finally, someone who looks like they are in charge or a government employee, I said to him in a calm voice I am an American citizen. There must have been a mistake or something, my passport is in my hotel at the Red Dragon Hostel.
These two men apprehended me and brought me here, if you need to see proof of my citizenship please escort me to my hotel and this misunderstanding can be rectified. It didn’t seem as if he was paying any attention to what I was saying, just my skin colour and my facial features. He was answering his cell phone in one hand and a walkie talkie in the other hand talking in another language, all while looking at me with a facial feature of hate.
He said to me where is your passport as if he didn’t hear what I just said in plain English. I said again my passport was in my hotel and that I am an American citizen. I arrived in KL from Bali, Indonesia on November 9. He said to me in a hateful voice if you are an American citizen, why don’t you have your passport on you? I told him just in case I get robbed, I locked it in my hotel room. Please just escort me back there to prove this.
Another man who seemed to be the second in charge said very loudly, What is your passport number? (The two guys who escorted me there were still holding my arms with a tight grip.) I had to think for a minute … social security number … driver’s licence number … oh yeah, passport number… hmmmmmmmmmmm I said while closing my eyes 1-2-1-0-4-5-…
By the time I got that out, I guess my time limit was up, he gave a signal to his goons to have me placed in the truck. After being locked up with all the other dark faces on the truck I knew the right to due process, including freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention had been violated.
I did my best to become relaxed. After being on that truck and being locked up like an animal, I started to assess the whole situation. It seemed obvious that this was some sort of unorganised mission/sting by the immigration officials of Malaysia to round up Africans.
Time stood still. I thought KL is definitely not a place in the world where I can feel free, sort of like I feel when I’m back home in the United States in Mississippi - the place where Oprah Winfrey was born. I hope she reads this.
Anyhow the truck began getting packed and more packed, some were kicking and screaming, and most were handcuffed. Most of the men were well-dressed and seemed to be coming from work, school, or walking with their girlfriends/wives before being entrapped.
I still did not give up. I thought I’m an American I’m not one of these guys, there has been a mistake. I kept trying to communicate through the screen cage, I’m an American, you have made mistake. That was when I heard a familiar voice coming from the dark in the back of the truck.
He said: I’m American too. Let us out. I looked at him and asked where he was from, he said Maryland, Washington DC. My name is Wayne. My eyes watered. I thought of the saying true misery loves company. We sat and exchanged stories on how we were ambushed and brought to the truck. His (experience) was little more rougher than mine but the fact remain we were unheard African prisoners.
After a couple of more failed and ignored attempts to say we were Americans and to let us out. I decided to lay down in the truck and save my breath, because it looked like we were headed for the long ride to the Upper Room.
After it seemed as if the immigration officers had met their quota, we were taken to another place to round up more individuals. The officers who seemed to be rent-a-cops with no badges went off to get something to eat, congratulating themselves on a job well done. We sat in that truck for a little over three hours being transferred from one place to another.
After we reached the third place which seemed like an alley in an undisclosed place, we were escorted off two by two handcuffed to each other. I was handcuffed to Wayne. We were asked to write our names and nationalities on a piece of paper. At that time Wayne produced a copy of his passport which was taken and disregarded like whatever. That was when I thought this was it. Death was surely at the next stop.
We were transferred to another caged truck. I still felt like this was all too strange and we were not being held by any government officials. No rights had been explained to me and at least five hours had passed.
By this time it was 1.30am. We were given sodas and bread was thrown into the cage. It was like trying to feed a freshly captured monkey expecting him to eat while passing him food through the little holes in the cage. I thought if this was a government agency and whether it was complying with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Okay, after another long, cold and bumpy ride with about 25 other men, we arrived at a place that looked as if it was a third world concentration camp. We waited at the gate for about 30 minutes because it looked like no one had the key to get in, like no one knew we were coming. After entering this compound, I noticed concertina razor and barbed wire along the tops of the fence. I said to Wayne maybe we were actually at a government agency. We were then escorted off the bus and locked into cages again, this time a huge cage.
I could hear the guards talking in another language, but I could not understand them. All I could understand was the hatred in the tone-of-voice used. I tried to remain calm but being a well decorated veteran from the Persian Gulf War, Desert Storm/Desert Shield 1990/91, I thought back to my military training and becoming a prisoner of war. Post-traumatic stress disorder had taken over again.
I started thinking of ways to escape and how to take out the guards. I thought to myself to remain calm and that this was all just a misunderstanding. I kept talking to Wayne about football/NFL and Dallas vs the New York Giants - anything to get our minds off the present situation.
We stayed in that cage until 9am Nov 17. With no toilets we were allowed to urinate outside the gate on the grass like animals, a demonstration of inhumane treatment. After looking around, I noticed that there were cages full of humans of all different races. We were then taken out of the cage and processed. Finger printing and picture taking went on.
We were also told to put all our belongings in a plastic bag. Finally we were told we would be there at least two weeks for processing and we would not be able to talk to an immigration officer until Monday because it was Friday. After we were told that, I kept trying to explain to the guard that I’m an American citizen and I would like to contact my embassy now. My cries were unheard again.
Then came the time to be escorted to the permanent holding area. Wayne was assigned to the B block and I was assigned to the A block. I told Wayne my email address and he told me his. We thought that this was it. My eyes watered again I asked the guard to see the immigration officer again, and somehow it seem as if he could feel my pain. I talked to the immigration officer and he obtained the number and address to the Red Dragon Hostel.
I talked with Jennie (the hostel manager) to get my passport out of my room and send it by cab. The officer also called Irene at the United States embassy in KL and she asked for my name, birth date and place of birth. Almost in tears of joy, I told her everything she asked for.
Irene asked if I had been physically abused, I said no besides from scratches from the handcuffs, the thought of (mental abuse) didn’t come to my mind until I left the country and locked myself in my hotel room. I also said that there was another American already locked up. Then the officers went to get Wayne.
After she faxed the documents proving that I was an American, I was still in handcuffs. They still wanted me to produce a passport. The head immigration officer asked again why didn’t I have my passport on me. I said because I read on the Internet that I was supposed to leave passports in the hotel safe. The city centre of KL has had several incidents of snatch thefts recently.
At about 4pm, Wayne and I were apologised to on several occasions by most of the staff at the holding camp and then transferred to the immigration office downtown where the immigration officers found our situation somewhat amusing. My eyes watered again but this time in disgust and anger. I told them this not a laughing matter. I was in business clothes I had wore the day before with no shower.
I told them to stop laughing because this was not a laughing matter. I was appalled at their behaviour. I wanted to get back to my hotel room and reserve the next flight out of the country. This type of humiliation and treatment will not be accepted by an American citizen. This incident will be heard. The treatment, and the conditions in that camp were both sub-standard and intolerable.
After I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on Nov 19, I checked myself in my hotel room and locked the door behind me. I noticed that I had developed a xenophobia towards Malaysians.
My goal now is to make sure that this incident is seen on a worldwide scale and not ignored. My regards to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Jul 28, 07 12:55pm
Yahweh Passim Nam, an ex-US Navy officer is considering suing the Tourism Ministry for US$6 million (RM23 million) for causing him grief and trauma.
Nam, who is now residing in Honolulu, Hawaii, is back in Malaysia to seek compensation for what he had to go through.
Nam was picked up by the authorities in civilian clothes on Nov 16 last year in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur.
Despite Nams endless pleas to be allowed to retrieve his passport from the hotel he was staying, the officers handcuffed him and hauled him into a truck which already contained several Africans.
He was brought to a detention camp and was held there for 18 hours before given permission to contact the US Embassy and the manager of his hotel.
He was released when the hotel manager and an US Embassy official produced relevant documents that proved his tourist status.
I was back in Chinatown (where he was arrested) yesterday just reliving the moment, and I can assure you that it is not pretty, said Nam who has been concentrating on surfing since his retirement.
The whole episode could have stopped if they allowed me to go and get my passport from the hotel Ive been staying, he told malaysiakini.
To see Tengku Adnan
Nam, 36, said that he is currently discussing legal procedures with his Malaysian lawyer, and that he will be in contact with more lawyers soon.
My lawyer and I are going to meet Tourism Minister (Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor) on Monday, said Nam, who had just returned from a vacation in China
Nam, who enjoys traveling explained that he will not stay more than a week in Malaysia even though he has a 90-day tourist visa due to his past experience in the country.
So much is going to happen in this one week. If the Tourism Ministry does not respond to my demands, I will publicise the issue in America, he said.
I will go to the American press and make this episode known there. That will affect Malaysias tourism industry and reduce the number of American visitors, he added.
Commenting on Wayne Wright, a US lawyer who was also wrongly arrested by the authorities on Nov 16, Nam said: Wayne will never come here again. Hes xenophobic and told all his friends not to ever come to Malaysia.