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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 dirinya.
- Editor

Asia Times
4th May 2001

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 against it.

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.

Asia Times
4th May 2001

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 norms?

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 yourself, stupid!

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 entrepreneurial initiative.

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.