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FEER: Anwar's Children
By Lorien Holland
18/5/2001 4:09 am Fri
[Rencana ini bertajuk anak-anak Anwar, tetapi di manakah mereka?
Rakyat Malaysia, khususnya parti pembangkang agak 'lembik' mendesak
kerajaan membebaskan semua tahanan ISA. Padahal ada pelbagai cara mudah
dapat dirangka - malangnya kita lebih banyak diam dari berbicara -
termasuk di alam siber juga. Patutlah Mahathir bermaharaja gila, kerana
orang melayu khususnya - masih bersikap tidak apa dan masih membuang
masa. Peluang ini akan digunakan oleh Mahathir untuk mengada-ngadakan
cerita kerana salah seorang tahanan ISA itu mungkin akan tertewas jika
ditahan terlalu lama....
Issue cover-dated 24th May 2001
Ten opposition leaders have been jailed. Are Malaysians outraged?
Well, not really
By Lorien Holland/KUALA LUMPUR
OPPOSITION LEADER Mohamad Ezam Mohamad Nor was on a roll. Across the
country, crowds of several thousand people came to hear his
charismatic speeches attacking government bailouts and cronyism.
Support was growing.
The one-time political aide to former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar
Ibrahim talked of building up political awareness and organizing more
rallies. He said that by keeping the government on its toes, his
fledgling National Justice Party, or Keadilan, and its allies stood a
chance of winning the next election in 2004.
His fiery words were enough to spook the authorities. In April, Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government silenced Ezam and nine
like-minded activists by arresting them under the Internal Security
Act, which suspends normal judicial process and allows for indefinite
detention without trial. Under the ISA, the home affairs minister must
either release prisoners or sign a two-year detention order after 60
days. Ezam's deadline is June 9.
Mahathir's public justification for using the ISA was that the
opposition leaders were amassing weapons for violent protests, and a
pre-emptive strike was necessary for national security. He pointed to
demonstrations in Indonesia and the Philippines and said he would not
tolerate similar disturbances. "They could have been arrested under
normal laws but normal laws require certain evidence and procedures
and processes, which I suppose from the police point of view is not
effective in preventing something from happening," he told reporters.
A month later, the 10 are still in jail. No evidence has been revealed
to support the allegations against them. None of them have been
allowed access to a lawyer and only some have seen their families. The
ruling coalition has blocked motions to discuss the detentions in
Nonetheless, Mahathir's gamble with the ISA is paying off, because he
does not appear to have paid a high political price for silencing his
most vocal critics. While protests from the opposition and
non-government organizations are slowly multiplying, public
indignation so far has been decidedly underwhelming. And the political
establishment, while indicating it does not wholeheartedly condone the
crackdown, has nonetheless fallen into line.
"Certainly, people are not jumping mad," says Penang state assemblyman
Toh Kin Woon, who is on the record as opposing the detentions even
though his party is a member of the ruling coalition. "It is difficult
to know what is the balance of forces, as people may be concerned
about expressing their opposition in public, but I don't get the
impression that there is a lot of adverse reaction."
The media has also done little to rock the boat. Even The Star, which
was temporarily shut down for its stance against a rash of ISA
detentions in 1987, has toed the government line. Like other
mainstream newspapers, it has not questioned the arrests or allowed
the opposition a voice, and has given prominent coverage to the
violence in Jakarta and Manila.
Lim Guan Eng, vice-chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party,
says there is an "effective news blackout" keeping the press silent on
the detentions. "We have to rely on the Internet and word of mouth and
pamphlets distributed in the street," he says.
Lim insists that the political tide is turning against the government,
following a series of events from the jailing of Anwar in 1998 to the
bailing out of politically connected companies this year, which have
alienated significant segments of the population.
But that has yet to translate into pressure on Mahathir to release the
detainees. Even Malaysia's Human Rights Commission has been unable to
force the police to allow visits, though it has the statutory
authority to do so.
Syed Husin Ali, a member of the recently formed Abolish ISA Movement,
which includes political parties and 76 non-government organizations,
concedes that momentum has been slow to gather. He says a series of
political gatherings will kick off on May 18, and culminate in a rally
in Kuala Lumpur in early June to mark 60 days of detention for Ezam
and the others.
"The allegations against these people are very serious and totally
unfounded . . . otherwise they would charge them in court," Husin
says. The one-time ISA detainee also refutes government claims that
violence was brewing comparable to that in Indonesia and the
Philippines. "Things are different here, as people here are aware of
the need for peaceful assembly and our meetings are always peaceful."