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ATimes: Worries grow over Malaysia's opposition detainees
By Anil Netto
9/5/2001 9:26 am Wed
[Semua pemimpin di negara yang berjiran dengan Malaysia kini
mungkin terseret ke mahkamah untuk menghadapi pertuduhan dari
rakyat (atau parlimen) kerana menyalahgunakan kuasa dan harta.
Kebangkitan rakyat secara semulajadi itu mungkin menyebabkan Mahathir
merasa amat tidak selesa sehingga terdesak menggunakan ISA untuk
menangkap pemimpin keADILan yang berpotensi menggerakkan semangat
ribuan rakyat untuk menumbangkannya. Ini bermakna pimpinan kerajaan
Mahathir sendiri tidak yaqin akan mampu berdepan dengan serangan
suara-suara sahaja dari pemimpin keADILan yang jauh lebih muda dan
bertenaga. Mahathir sebenarnya tidaklah sekuat mana - jika tidak dia
tidak akan menggunakan ISA untuk menangkap tanpa bukti dan bicara.
Sekarang Mahathir tertekan lagi kerana Musa Hitam semakin begitu
mengancam dengan Suhakamnya walaupun masih ada beberapa kekurangannya.
Ahli Umno akan memerhati kebolehan luarbiasa Musa Hitam untuk membuang
sejarah hitam yang melekat dalam dirinya dalam serba kekurangan itu
untuk naik mencanak secara tiba-tiba. Dengan cara itu dapatlah dia
'menebus dosa' tertipu oleh permainan Mahathir yang licik sehingga teraib
Worries grow over Malaysia's opposition detainees
By Anil Netto
PENANG - Fears continue to grow for the physical and mental well-being
of 10 opposition activists in Malaysia who are detained indefinitely,
without trial, after their arrest last month. The 10 in detention,
arrested at various times from April 10-26 under the Internal Security
Act (ISA), are now being held at unknown locations. Family members
have been unable to meet them. A court has also upheld their
detention, after police said they made the arrests to prevent the
activists from organizing anti-government protests and plotting
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has written to
police seeking access to the detainees but has so far been unable to
meet them. Home Affairs Minister Abdullah Badawi asserted that the 10
detainees would not be "brutalized", amid concerns by activists who
say they know from past detainees of the abuses that could be going on
in detention. "We have had enough with one black eye," Badawi said,
referring to the assault on former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim after
he was arrested in 1998. "We don't want to see two or three more."
Former police chief Rahim Noor was sentenced to a two-month prison
term on April 30 for the assault.
Asked about the well-being of the detainees, Deputy Inspector-General
of Police Jamil Johari responded, "What more safer place than in
police hands?" However, Anwar Ibrahim and many other ISA detainees who
had been victims of police brutality during the 60-day ISA
interrogation period would probably have dissented and asserted that,
under the circumstances, there is "no more dangerous place than in
police hands", said Lim Kit Siang, chairman of the opposition
Democratic Action Party and himself a two-time ISA detainee.
ISA allows the indefinite detention of people without trial - a
decision on whether to extend their detention is made by the
government only after the first 60 days. Assurances by the
authorities, however, have not convinced rights activists, relatives,
opposition politicians, and former ISA detainees, who say detainees
are likely to face harsh interrogation by rotating teams of
interrogators, sleep deprivation, and isolation from the outside
world. In the first of two trials of Anwar, who is serving 15 years in
jail for abuse of power and s###my, a high-ranking police officer
described how harsh interrogation techniques were used to intimidate
and "turn over" detainees before they were "neutralized". These
techniques were probably perfected during the period from the 1950s to
the late 1970s when authorities had to quell a communist insurrection
- the rationale for the ISA in the first place.
But critics of the ISA allege the law has also been used to silence
political opponents of the government, while denying them their basic
rights. Alleged police brutality on detainees exploded into the news
soon after Anwar's initial detention, when former police chief Rahim
Noor assaulted a blindfolded and handcuffed Anwar in a cell at the
Bukit Aman national police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Anwar's black eye was flashed on television screens across the world
when he emerged in court days later to face corruption charges. The
black eye sparked public outrage and proved to be a rallying point for
the rights movement in its struggle to abolish the ISA.
Opposition to the ISA among Anwar supporters, largely ethnic Malay
Muslims, mounted with the onset of reformasi (the reform movement).
Until then, Malays, who make up about half the population and the
traditional support base of the ruling party of Prime Minister
Mahathir Mohamad, had appeared to tolerate the ISA as a necessary
evil. All that changed with the onset of reformasi, and many Malays
are today among the most vehemently opposed to the act - indeed, an
Abolish ISA Movement (AIM) was launched April 30 in Kuala Lumpur by
activists and politicians.
Amid the latest round of objections to the ISA, the court's sentence
against Rahim may well be a small victory of sorts. Rejecting an
appeal by Rahim against a jail term, the Court of Appeal described the
1998 assault on Anwar as "despicable and inhumane" and directed
subordinate courts to impose "nothing short of a custodial sentence"
in cases of a similar nature. The court also chided prosecutors for
not pressing for a heavier sentence.
But activists are well aware of worrisome testimonies by other ISA
detainees, stories that fuel their anxiety today. Based on her
experience in detention, women's movement activist Irene Xavier said
in a statement circulated on the Internet, "There is only one word to
describe interrogation during the 60 days - it is violent." She added,
"I want to say that I experienced physical violence for the first time
in my life during so-called safe custody of the [police]."
Xavier described how her interrogator gave her the choice of a wooden
or metal stick for a beating. She said she was not sure if she stated
her preference, but the interrogator started beating her with a wooden
beam "which looked very like the two-by-four beams that are used in
carpentry". "He beat me on the legs and particularly hard on the soles
of my feet," she recalled. "I was required to hold my feet [out] one
at a time so that he could beat the soles." The beating was
accompanied by verbal abuse, she said.
Xavier was among some 3,000 people, including former ISA detainees,
relatives of current detainees, rights activists, and opposition
politicians who packed a hall in the capital for the launch of the
Abolish ISA Movement on Monday night. So far, 76 public interest
groups, opposition parties, trade unions, and student groups have
joined the movement. Asked to comment on the launch of the movement,
Mahathir replied, "Oh, congratulations to them."
As concern for the detainees' well-being mounts, the AIM coalition is
now planning a nationwide roadshow to protest against the ISA and call
for its repeal, but few among the activists are under any illusion
that the campaign will be easy.
Southeast Asia: What the hell is going on?
The economic crisis that gripped Southeast Asia (and Korea) in 1997-98
is not as acute as it was three years ago. But politically Southeast
Asia is coming apart at the seams - and, of course, the economic
consequences will not be long in waiting.
In the Philippines, Joseph Estrada, the man elected with the largest
plurality of any president in the country's history, was overthrown in
January by a military coup backed by a motley coalition of business
groups, leftists, clerics and what-not under the banner of "people
power". After Estrada's arrest on April 25, hundreds of thousands of
his voters and supporters - mainly Manila's poor - demonstrated in the
streets and on Tuesday night marched on the presidential palace
occupied by his unconstitutional successor in the attempt to reinstall
him. The country is now under some ill-defined "state of rebellion"
for which there exists no constitutional provision. With the arrest of
several senators and senatorial candidates on sedition and rebellion
charges, May 14 congressional elections will be a farce. There is a
total breakdown of the rule of law and institutional authority.
In Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, the man elected with the largest
majority of any prime minister in the country's history, may well soon
be removed from office on corruption charges if found guilty by the
Thai constitutional court. A constitutional crisis and social unrest
at that point become inevitable.
In Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, the country's first freely elected
president, who commands the support of millions of members of the
Muslim mass organization he once headed, has been censured for the
second time by Parliament on corruption charges and is facing
impeachment proceedings. While his supporters exercised restraint last
weekend in Jakarta demonstrations, his involuntary removal from office
would - with near certainty - cause mass unrest.
In Malaysia, the fate of jailed former deputy prime minister Anwar
Ibrahim continues to act as a focal point for opposition political
activity and growing dissatisfaction with the government of Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Arrests of numerous opposition leaders
under the draconian Internal Security Act, which provides for no legal
recourse, is a clear indication of the government's lack of faith in
its ability to rule by ordinary institutional means.
What are the roots of such political and social turmoil and the
inability to contain it by established institutional forms and legal
Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the - mostly well-deserved -
discrediting of its ideological underpinnings, it has become
unfashionable, indeed downright disreputable, to speak of, let alone
analyze, social and political phenomena in terms of class distinctions
and conflicts. Equality of opportunity rules in our brave, new
free-market world. In a crude converse of Frank Sinatra's New York, if
you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere - and blame
But however appropriate such new-fangled "end of ideology"
free-for-all talk may be in New York (which we doubt as even in the US
such conundrums as "compassionate conservatism" make the rounds), it's
definitely not in most of Southeast Asia where class rifts are alive
and well, where tiny family-based elites and their political cronies
rule, and equality of opportunity is so distant that few so much as
dream of it.
And while prior to the Asian crisis at least some modest leveling of
income differentials occurred, that's been undone and in spades since
then. Some of the rich may have lost some of their wealth, but not
their privileges and powers. Meanwhile, sizeable groups of urbanites
that had begun moving up to widening middle class status, have dropped
back to the edge of poverty, while the rural poor, of course, never
got out of their rut in the first place. Those that had made it to the
cities and been employed as cheap construction labor or in other
menial jobs now populate growing urban slums or the basements of
unfinished high-rise ruins.
All this finds its most drastic expression in the Philippines, with
the most drastic of political consequences. But in principle, the
situation is no different in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia where
average per capita income in the capital cities is anywhere from 10 to
30 times that in the rural provinces and the income differential
between the urban rich and poor defies description.
Such inequalities and inequities will not be redressed by free market
forces because what underlies them are entrenched, often inherited,
political power positions and privileges which those who enjoy them
fight tooth and nail to protect. Only some nasty political shocks
might give rise to a new generation of pro-active political leaders
willing and capable to address these issues and enact and enforce
legislation ranging from radical land and education reform to broader
economic reform measures broadening the access to capital and enabling
That's what's playing out in Manila. It will soon play out in Bangkok
or Jakarta. If Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the presidential Macapagal
family and on behalf of the Makati Business Club and Jaime Cardinal
Sin's feudal clergy wins out in Manila now (as likely she will), it
only postpones a later reckoning.