|Laman Webantu KM2A1: 5211 File Size: 10.2 Kb *|
WPost: Malaysia Reins In Opposition Political Activists
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
12/8/2001 11:52 pm Sun
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 12, 2001; Page A17
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Two unmarked police cars cut
off Nagapan Gobalkrishnan as he drove away from a political
rally after delivering a blistering speech urging Malaysian Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad to resign.
"You have to come with us," one of the officers told him. "We
have to ask you some questions."
When he got to the police station that April night, the
commanding officer told Gobalkrishnan that he was being
detained under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, a colonial-era
law that allows people to be held without trial for as long as the
government wants. Police officials accused him and seven other
leaders of the opposition National Justice Party of planning to
use "militant means" to overthrow Mahathir, Asia's
For the next seven weeks, Gobalkrishnan was held in solitary
confinement and denied access to a lawyer or his family. He
said he was subjected to lengthy interrogations, often ending
with fierce beatings, that focused not on the allegations of
political violence, which he denied, but on the internal
operations of his party and a large anti-government
demonstration he had been organizing.
"It was all a sham," growled Gobalkrishnan, 41, a loquacious
veteran political activist. "They arrested us on these false
charges to intimidate us -- and the rest of the opposition."
Rival politicians and human rights activists contend that
Mahathir is resorting to a variety of draconian measures to crack
down on a fast-growing opposition movement that has become
the most potent threat to his governing coalition in the two
decades he has been in power. Mahathir's government has
ordered a wave of arrests under the security act and he has
banned all public rallies, pulling thousands of police officers off
their regular jobs to break up any opposition gathering of more
than four people.
"Our democracy is being emasculated because he is afraid that
he's not able to maintain his iron grip on power," said Chandra
Muzaffar, deputy president of the National Justice Party. The
party was formed by the wife of Anwar Ibrahim, the popular
former deputy prime minister who was jailed on s###my charges
that many here believe were fabricated.
Earlier this month, the government detained 10 more people
under the security act, several of whom were active members of
the largest opposition group, the conservative Pan-Malaysian
Islamic Party. Officials accused the detainees, who allegedly
were trained in Afghanistan, of involvement in a series of
bombings, robberies and the murder of a politician. Party officials
deny the charges and say they were arrested because of their
The arrests and the ban on assemblies have ratcheted up
political tensions in this Southeast Asian country of 23 million
people, raising fears of a broader opposition crackdown and
increasing religious and ethnic polarization in a country that has
long been regarded as a model of multiethnic harmony.
Although Mahathir's secular-oriented coalition holds
three-quarters of the seats in Parliament, opposition parties
have made significant inroads in recent years. In the last
national election, the Islamic party tripled its seats in the
legislature and captured two state governments.
Since then, opposition groups have continued a campaign to
persuade people to defect from Mahathir's party by capitalizing
on widespread disgust with his close relationship with business
tycoons, his demonization of Anwar, his manipulation of the
judicial system and his combative style. The Islamic party also
has tried to convince the dominant Malay population, which is
overwhelmingly Muslim, that Mahathir is not conservative
enough on religious issues.
Though there are no reliable opinion polls in Malaysia, political
analysts said the strategy appears to be working. By all
accounts, it has made Mahathir increasingly nervous.
"The aggressiveness of the opposition is causing considerable
concern," said Zulkifli Mohd Alwi, an official with Mahathir's
party, the United Malays National Organization.
The prime minister and his associates deny that the arrests were
an attempt to squelch his rivals. They contend that the National
Justice members and those affiliated with the Islamic party
intended to resort to violence to topple the government.
"Some even tried to make hand grenades, find weapons and
buy guns from other countries to hold demonstrations and riots
all the time until the government was ousted," Mahathir said of
the National Justice leaders who were detained. "We cannot
But the government has not provided any evidence of those
claims. Under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, known as the
ISA, officials do not need to file charges or get a judge's
consent to hold a person incommunicado for 60 days. After that,
suspects deemed to be an ongoing risk to national security can
be incarcerated indefinitely by the home affairs minister. Legal
specialists said Malaysia's law is among the world's most
repressive security acts.
Lawyers representing the National Justice Party detainees argue
that the government's failure to provide any evidence of the
allegedly violent acts being planned suggest that the claims
were concocted. "These are just trumped-up reasons offered to
the public to legitimize the use of the ISA," said attorney
Sivarasa Rasiah. "The real purpose was to blunt the growing
strength of the opposition movement."
Sivarasa said his clients told him that they were interrogated
about the party's organization and finances, not terrorism. They
also said police officials urged them to renounce their
membership in the opposition and join Mahathir's party, Sivarasa
said. "This was all about politics," he said.
That was the same conclusion Gobalkrishnan came to a few
hours into his 51-day detention, when he was interrogated for
the first time.
"They never asked me any questions about terrorism, or the
grenades and guns and rocket launchers they said we were
going to use," he said. "They wanted to know about the inner
workings of the party."
Then, he said, his questioners "wanted me to say that I had sex
with women other than my wife, women in the party. They
wanted to portray women in the party as loose women."
Political analysts and diplomats said they were surprised by the
police's apparent interest in the sex lives of opposition members,
noting that the government's graphic allegations of s###my
involving Anwar, which resulted in a conviction despite a raft of
contradictory evidence, wound up hurting Mahathir's reputation
more than Anwar's in the eyes of many Malaysians.
Gobalkrishnan attributes his release, along with one other party
activist, to a sympathetic judge who bristled at the government's
failure to present any evidence of their alleged crimes. Six other
party leaders, whose appeal to be released was denied by
another judge, remain in custody. Mahathir's deputy recently
ordered them transferred to a prison camp after signing an order
allowing them to be detained for as long as two years.
Attorneys for the six have appealed to the country's top court. In
a surprising procedural victory, the country's chief justice
brushed aside government objections and ruled this past week
that he would consider evidence about the interrogations.
Party lawyers and rights activists are hoping the chief justice,
Mohamad Dzaiddin Abdullah, who has said he wants to restore
the "image" of the judiciary, will put Mahathir on notice that the
law cannot be used to target political opponents.
In recent months, the judiciary has been showing signs of
renewed independence. In the most notable example, a judge in
June nullified the results of a state election that had been won
by a member of Mahathir's ruling coalition. The judge said that in
1999, when hearings on the case began, he had been "given a
directive" by a "superior" to dismiss it.
"The judges now feel they are a little freer," said Param
Cumaraswamy, a Malaysian lawyer who serves as a U.N.
special overseer of judicial independence. "With the new chief
justice, the climate is more conducive for them to judge cases
on the facts and the law without taking into account outside
The prime minister said recently that his government "does not
apologize to anyone" for the arrests, which he said were
conducted "for the sake of the safety of the country's majority."
Political analysts and diplomats said the arrest of the 10 people
alleged to have links to Islamic freedom fighters in Afghanistan
could be an attempt to deflect criticism from Western
governments over the security act. "He is trying to portray this
as a crackdown on Muslim extremists," said a Western diplomat.
"He's hoping it will play well in the United States and Europe."
But the diplomat questioned the prime minister's claims. "We
haven't seen any evidence that really shows what these guys
were doing other than working for the opposition."
Some of Mahathir's allies have expressed concern that the
detentions could backfire, emboldening instead of intimidating
opposition leaders like Gobalkrishnan.
"Mahathir hasn't frightened me," Gobalkrishnan said. "I'm going
to continue the fight even if it means going back to jail."
© 2001 The Washington Post Company