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TheAge: In torment, but firm of spirit
By Mark Baker

15/5/2001 3:26 am Tue

[Dengan menggugurkan pertuduhan tambahan kerajaan seperti bimbang afidavit yang AMAT LENGKAP lagi TERPERINCI oleh Sukma, Dr Munawar, Mior dll akan tersebar sehingga maruah kerajaan tercemar. Ini seperti membuktikan tanggapan bahawa Anwar adalah mangsa konspirasi politik adalah semata benar. Kerajaan tidak mampu menghadapi bahang kesedaran rakyat yang sudah semakin menular. Lunas yang dimilikki oleh BN di tanah tumpah darah celup Mahathir itu pun boleh tumpas di tangan BA, inikan pula DUN Hulu Kelang atau Beserah seandainya ada pengundian semula.

Apa yang menarik lapuran the Age ini mencatat satu lapuran yang pernah tersiar di KM2 bahawa Ghani Haron telah dibelasah sehingga tidak sedarkan diri dan dibawa ke Kuala Lumpur di dalam sebuah kapal terbang dalam diam-diam. Inilah antara sebab mengapa polis menggelabah mendapatkan kebenaran hakim lain untuk menangguhkan kemunculan Ghani Haron. Jika khabar angin ini benar nampaknya polis bertopeng tidak akan dapat menyembunyikan rahsia lagi kerana polis yang baik ada di mana-mana.....
- Editor

The Melbourne Age
14th May 2001

In torment, but firm of spirit


He appears in a wheelchair and neck brace, encircled by guards. The constant pain from a worsening back injury and the many months of detention have crippled the body, if not the spirit, of Anwar Ibrahim, once heir apparent to Dr Mahathir Mohamad but now his political prisoner. There is a thin smile as eight-year-old Nurul Hana, the youngest of his five daughters seated in the front row, rushes forward to kiss his hand.

The High Court has convened on Saturday morning in Sungai Buloh Jail, the remand prison on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur which Anwar Ibrahim ordered built as Malaysia's finance minister and where he now serves a 15-year sentence for alleged corruption and s###my. Even within the prison boundaries, there are squads of guards with riot shields, truckloads of policemen and an edgy contingent of senior officers, attesting that this is no petty session.

Justice Augustine Paul, a bald bewhiskered Malaysian Indian, takes his seat, avoiding the gaze of the man he convicted two years ago after allowing prosecutors to amend charges and change evidence mid-trial, expunging disputed evidence from the court record and publicly declaring he did not care if there was a political conspiracy to bring down Anwar.

Then, as abruptly as they began, the proceedings are over. In an extraordinary move, the prosecution announced it was withdrawing five further charges of s###my and corruption against Anwar and the judge ordered their dismissal. "It is, of course, a pleasant surprise but I would have preferred to face them in court because I believe all of these charges are trumped up," Anwar told The Age as he was led back to his cell in solitary confinement.

The dropping of the final charges in a legal saga that began with Anwar's sensational arrest in September 1998 is a big embarrassment to the Malaysian Government. It reinforces the already overwhelming evidence that Anwar has been the victim of a political vendetta, the execution of which has corrupted Malaysia's political and judicial systems and severely shaken Dr Mahathir's 20-year grip on power.

Anwar's real crime was to emerge as a popular and charismatic alternative leader, and to have taken a stand against spreading corruption within the government and the ruling United Malays National Organisation.

But there is no reason to believe that this legal shift is any more than a strategic retreat in an escalating crackdown on political dissent in Malaysia, and in Dr Mahathir's determination to destroy the rival that many Malaysians believe should already be their leader and who some remain convinced eventually will be.

Despite indications that Dr Mahathir over-rode senior cabinet colleagues in pressing for the trial, it was shaping as politically suicidal to do so. Three of the four men alleged to have been s###mised by Anwar have now sworn statements that police forced them to fabricate allegations and were ready to be called as defence witnesses. One of the alleged victims gave a 56-page account of being beaten and tortured by police.

The government could not have afforded the risk of its case against Anwar unravelling over the coming months. Its support base, particularly among the heartland Malay constituency, has been eroding since Anwar's arrest, which triggered mass protests and widespread public indignation. The party's vote was down across the country in elections 18 months ago and the party lost a blue ribbon seat in Dr Mahathir's home state of Kedah late last year. The response has been to tighten controls on the media and crack down hard on the opposition, particularly Keadilan, the new party headed by Anwar's wife, Dr Wan Azizah.

Last month 10 prominent opposition activists were jailed under the infamous Internal Security Act, which permits almost indefinite detention without charge or trial. Senior police and government officials claimed then that the group had been plotting to overthrow the government, stockpiling weapons and enlisting Indonesian support for a violent uprising - allegations for which no evidence has yet been produced.

Five detainees are being held at undisclosed locations, denied access to families and lawyers, while the government has fought moves to have them brought before court. This has compounded fears that they have been beaten by police while in custody, as Anwar was after his arrest. One of the five, Abdul Ghani Haroon, was reported to have been carried semi-conscious on to a plane to be flown back to Kuala Lumpur after his arrest in Sarawak.

The government also remains relentless in its determination to excoriate Anwar. Last Thursday he was sent back to prison after spending five months in hospital with a spinal injury he says was sustained when he was handcuffed, blindfolded and severely beaten by former police chief Rahim Noor on the night of his arrest in 1998. (Early last week Noor was finally jailed for two months for the assault after exhausting his appeal options.)

The decision to return Anwar to prison despite his deteriorating medical condition was made by the cabinet after he refused spinal surgery at a public hospital in Kuala Lumpur. He is suffering complications from a slipped disc which specialists say requires urgent surgery if he is to avoid the risk of permanent disability.

The government has denied Anwar permission to fly to Munich for endoscopic surgery, which requires only local anaesthetic and cannot be performed in Malaysia - despite government-appointed doctors acknowledging that because of his condition and complications from an earlier neck injury, invasive surgery under general anaesthetic could leave him paralysed. Anwar also says he fears for his safety if operated on by local doctors who are taking directions from senior government officials openly hostile towards him.

Dr Mahathir is fiercely unsympathetic to the man he once groomed as his successor, claiming Anwar will never return if he is allowed to travel overseas for treatment. "Hundreds of people have been treated for back pains here, but he is saying that only one doctor in the entire world can treat him," he said last week.

Another doctor, somewhat better qualified than Dr Mahathir, Dr Wan Azizah - a specialist who studied at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin - said her husband was in constant pain with mobility becoming more restricted the longer treatment was delayed. "After a while, the nerve is so stretched by this injury that the recovery rate can be very slow and, if you wait too long, it may not recover," she said. "There is a real risk of permanent disability, but that risk could be heightened by invasive surgery under general anaesthetic. He doesn't have a choice."

The punishment of Anwar Ibrahim has extended to his family. While Dr Azizah and the children were allowed more regular visits while Anwar was in hospital, now that he is back in prison means they will see him only once every two weeks, and then only in a public reception area where they are separated by a thick glass partition.

"It's very hard for the children," said Dr Azizah. "They get so excited rushing to see him after waiting so long. Maybe the young ones have lost a tooth or been awarded an A at school, and they can't communicate with their father, only through an intercom which is very hard to hear. They will try to touch him through the glass and they get very distressed. It's so hard for him, too. He says the worst part is always when we leave and he has to go back to his cell alone."

While the government paints Anwar's prison life as one of comfort and special privileges, he is kept in a basic cell with an unpartitioned toilet and one water tap. He has no TV, radio or access to newspapers and he is under almost constant watch with even his meals having to pass security checks.

Despite his poor health, the deprivations of prison life and the constant vilification he receives from his former colleagues in the government and in the state-controlled media, Anwar remains remarkably focused and determined to clear his name. In a long letter hand-written one night just before he was sent back to jail last week, he wrote: "It is true that my body is in prison and my health is not the best, but my spirit is ever free. I thank God the Almighty that I, as a concerned and aware citizen, am freed of the web of authoritarian oppression that members of the power elite are caught in."

Dr Azizah believes her husband, who was steeled by two years' jail as a young political activist, will survive this ordeal, and his enemies. "He will one day return to politics, but the path is not clear. It is accepted by many that Anwar will be the next leader of Malaysia; he is the one people relate to. So many people, so many strangers, stop me and say, `Don't worry he will be back one day'. Dr Mahathir would like him to just disappear, but it's not going to happen."

Mark Baker is Asia Editor.