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ATimes: 'Warrior Princesses' On The Warpath
By Anil Netto

10/6/2001 7:39 am Sun

[Tuhan kerap menganugerahkan sesuatu yang istimewa buat kaum hawa di dunia ini secara 'tunai' atas kegigihan mereka. Air zam-zam yang mengalir tidak putus-putus di Mekah itu contohnya adalah salah satu daripadanya untuk menghargai peranan Siti Hajar sebagai ibu dan isteri yang teramat setia lagi kasih kepada keluarganya.

Bagaimana pula dengan Malaysia? Kebangkitan kaum hawa di negara ini telah dihadiahkan dengan keputusan bersejarah oleh Hakim Hishamuddin yang telah mengaibkan semua polis bertopeng yang selama ini begitu rakus bermaharaja gila mengugut dan menangkap sesiapa sahaja walaupun bukti tidak ada. Sepatutnya semua rakyat berugama Islam dan pemimpin PAS khususnya menganjurkan majlis solat besar-besaran mensyukuri satu pertolongan ajaib dari langit ini yang telah muncul tiba-tiba. Berkat siapakah ini semua jika tidak kaum ibu dan hawa? Kaum ibu adalah penting jika tidak syurga itu tidak akan dikatakan terletak dibawah telapak kaki mereka. - Editor]

Asia Times
8th June 2001

'Warrior princesses' on the warpath

By Anil Netto

PENANG - Dozens of public interest and rights groups are expected to hold a protest gathering against a harsh security law outside the official residence of Home Affairs Minister and Deputy Premier Abdullah Badawi on Saturday. The gathering marks the climax of two months of grueling campaigning against the Internal Security Act (ISA) since 10 reformasi activists were detained without trial under the law at various times between April 10 and 26.

Abdullah has already warned the gathering is illegal and the matter has been referred to the police, setting the stage for yet another standoff between protestors and police in the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Protests from public interest groups have intensified over the past two weeks as another public uproar erupted over the takeover of two relatively independent newspapers by the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the second largest party in the ruling coalition. The MCA, which already controls the top-selling English daily The Star, last month announced it was taking over Nanyang Press, the publisher of Chinese-language dailies, Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press. Nanyang has a circulation of 177,000 while China Press sells 204,000 copies.

Scores of Chinese associations and even top MCA leaders have strongly opposed the deal. They are arguing that the Chinese community, which makes up 25 percent of the country's population of 23 million, would be better served by independent media that could present a range of views, including dissenting views. Some 90 writers and contributors have announced that they are boycotting the two newspapers.

Although reformasi street demonstrations were curbed following the detentions of the 10 activists (four have since been released), the smaller but spirited anti-ISA and anti-Nanyang Press takeover protests show no signs of letting up. The protests, intense and emotional, have at times overlapped as in the case in Penang on June 1, when the anti-ISA lobby and the media protestors converged at the Penang Chinese Town Hall before a crowd of 500.

Activists pinned anti-ISA badges on the shirts of those attending the forum while others tied yellow ribbons - the protest symbol of the anti-Nanyang takeover - around their wrists. Inside the forum, speakers railed against the assault on media freedom while the wives and relatives of detainees slammed the detentions of their loved ones as secret police watched from the back of the hall.

What has made the anti-ISA protests more interesting is that women have been at the forefront of the Abolish ISA Movement, a coalition of 80 NGOs and rights groups. The wives, mothers and daughters of the detainees, who have been dubbed "warrior princesses" in reformasi circles, have crisscrossed the country on a nationwide roadshow speaking to hushed crowds about how the reformasi activists were hauled away by police and how their families were kept in the dark about their fate for long periods.

Women's groups have organized hunger strikes to protest against the detentions and as riot police looked on, hundreds of women and children held a public demonstration on June 4 at the foot of the Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest buildings, the symbol of pride of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's administration. Thanks to their efforts, the ISA stands largely discredited in the eyes of large sections of the public. The High Court, in a landmark ruling on May 30, freed two of the 10 reformasi activists and stunned observers when it declared that it was perhaps time for Parliament to review the law.

The sentiment against the ISA has left government officials at pains to defend the law. They argue that the IAS, drafted at a time when Malaysia was facing a communist insurgency, is still needed to defend the nation from any threats to national security. The 10 reformasi activists, they allege, were out to "topple" the government through street demonstrations and the movement was using increasingly militant means towards that goal. But after almost 60 days of interrogation, little evidence of the activists' guilt, if any, has been publicly disclosed.

Four of the 10 detainees have been transferred to the Kamunting Detention Camp in Perak state, north of Kuala Lumpur, to serve out two-year detention orders (although they may be released earlier). Apart from the two freed by the High Court, two others have been voluntarily released by police while the remaining two are still in police custody.

Many eyes will be on Badawi's residence on Saturday to gauge the extent of the anti-ISA protests and to see how police handle the situation. And even as anti-ISA protestors converge at Badawi's residence, one man is expected to walk out of jail a free man on Saturday. Former inspector-general of police Rahim Noor, who assaulted ousted deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim during his jail-house interrogation, is due to be released from Kajang Prison after a customary one-third remission of his two-month prison term for good behavior. An ailing Anwar, himself a two-time victim of the ISA, meanwhile languishes in prison serving jail terms totalling 15 years.