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TheAge: Son jailed for 'sins' of the father [Nik Adli KMM]
By Mark Baker

25/8/2001 7:27 pm Sat

The Melbourne Age
25th August 2001

Son jailed for 'sins' of the father


The phone call came on a Saturday morning early this month. Nik Adli was more curious than apprehensive as he drove with a cousin to police headquarters in Kota Bharu, a frontier town on Malaysia's north-east coast.

Ten minutes after they arrived, the 34-year-old secondary school teacher was handcuffed and led away. His wife and two young children have not seen or heard from him since.

Arrested under the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial for up to two years, Nik Adli was accused of the gravest offences. According to the chief of police and the Prime Minister, he leads a militant Islamic group, secretly trained in guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan, that is behind a spate of crimes including armed robbery and murder, and was stockpiling weapons for the violent overthrow of the Malaysian Government.

Nine other men were arrested under the ISA that day, but it is the case of Nik Adli that has created the greatest impact.

His father is Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, Chief Minister of the state of Kelantan and spiritual leader of Pati Islam SeMalaysia (Pas), the opposition party that has grown rapidly in recent years and which many Malaysians believe is poised to break the 20-year reign of Mahathir Mohamad and his United Malays National Organisation.

The cleric with the white turban and Ho Chi Minh beard is in no doubt about his son's real crime.

"I am sure that their target is Nik Aziz and not the son of Nik Aziz. I am the one they want to destroy and they are working on it," he says in his office in Kota Bharu, the state capital. "They have snatched my son just like the Abu Sayyaf kidnappers in the Philippines.

"Maybe they want to see me bowing and begging to the Prime Minister, the ministers and the chief of the police, but I definitely won't do it. Dr Mahathir can can do what he likes. I only wish to the Almighty for my son not to be physically hurt."

According to others who know him, Nik Adli is an unlikely terrorist leader. A teacher at one of the Islamic schools established by his father, he is described as a soft-spoken family man with a passion for gardening and breeding rare birds. It is no secret that as a student in Pakistan he spent time with the Muslim forces fighting the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul - but that was more than a decade ago and only now are the Malaysian authorities seeking to paint support for the mujihadeen as the mark of a subversive.

"As a student he used to visit Afghanistan and he would write me many letters about the people's struggle," says Nik Aziz. "But so what? Even the Americans were there with their Stinger missiles fighting the Russian communists. I am proud to have a son who is very caring about his fellow Muslims. That was long ago. After he completed his studies he came home and now he leads a simple life. There is no truth to this."

Nik Aziz's offences against Malaysia's ruling order are far more tangible than those of his son. In the 1990 national elections, a Pas-led coalition humiliated UMNO by capturing all 13 federal parliamentary seats in Kelantan and scoring an unprecedented clean sweep of the state assembly. In the decade since, Nik Aziz has become one of the most outspoken critics of corruption and "money politics" in the federal government, a crusader against the pampered power of Malaysia's sultans and a rallying point for disaffected Malays.

Following the arrest and jailing three years ago of Anwar Ibrahim, Dr Mahathir's deputy and anointed successor, on widely discredited sex and corruption charges, there has been an acceleration of the shift in Malay support away from UMNO to the opposition alliance in which Pas is the biggest party. At the last elections two years ago, Pas maintained its grip on Kelantan, where it now holds 40 of the 42 state seats, won control of neighboring Terengganu state and expanded its support base across the country. Subsequent byelections have confirmed a continuing erosion in support for UMNO.

Nik Aziz, a father of 10 who is about to turn 70, eschews the perks of high office. He refuses to live in the chief minister's grand official residence, continuing to stay in his family's simple house beside the mosque in Kota Bharu.

Under his rule, a strict Islamic code has been enforced for Kelantan's Malays. As well as bans on gambling and alcohol, the government has cracked down on nightclubs and unisex hair salons and ordered cinemas to leave the lights on to avoid furtive immorality. Checkout queues at supermarkets are segregated by gender and Muslim female public servants are required to wear head scarves and are prohibited from using lipstick.

In one of his more eccentric pronouncements, the chief minister once urged affirmative action for "ugly" women in the State Government's recruitment policy to avoid tempting male workers. He has also berated Muslims who fail to perform the compulsory five daily prayers of their faith.

Such moves have been used by UMNO to paint Nik Aziz as a dangerous zealot and Pas as a party determined to impose an Islamic state, overturning Malaysia's delicate multi-racial balance and denying the constitutional rights of the minority Chinese and Indian communities.

Nik Aziz denies he and his party are out to force their religion on those who choose not to embrace it.

He believes the real threat to democracy is not Islamic fundamentalism but the abuse of power and the manipulation of the legal system by a ruling elite determined to cling to power at any cost. He says the use of the ISA to lock up his son and other political activists is a sign of the government's desperation.

"As usual, Dr Mahathir doesn't want to listen to anybody," he said. "A leader of this type who is always at war is a very dangerous person. But his attitude is only drawing people closer to Pas."