Laman Webantu   KM2A1: 4493 File Size: 5.9 Kb *

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....
- Editor

The Far Eastern Economic Review

Issue cover-dated 24th May 2001

Anwar's Children

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 parliament.

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."