Malaysia: A Country for Old Men
Anwar Ibrahim is once again in the international
news. Once again he stands accused of sodomy. In 2004 similar allegations were
rejected by Malaysia’s highest court. The Court ruled in favour of the defence who had held that the allegations were
a political maneuver of the ruling United Malays National
Organization (UMNO). The aim: to stifle legitimate democratic dissent as a means to shore up UMNO
These new accusations against Anwar Ibrahim appear to be a
repeat performance. They appear to be part of a wider pattern of state action
against those seeking peaceful change.
UMNO has been in power for a very long time
and appears to have an overdeveloped sense of entitlement to power. In March 2008
the Malaysian electorate sent a very clear message of
dissent. In a democracy power is gained through the ballot box: the continued abuse of existing national security
and sedition laws to shut down democratic peaceful dissent and opposition is a
serious abuse of those laws. A peaceful demonstration in no way constitutes a
threat to the security of a democratic state. The government’s actions are
challenge to the legitimacy of the government and to Malaysian democracy
Anwar Ibrahim arrested
On 29 June 2008, Parti Keadilan Rakyat
(PKR) and Opposition leader of Malaysia Datuk Seri
Anwar Ibrahim took refuge at the Turkish Embassy in Kaula Lumpur fearing for his life. He was accused of sodomizing a male aide on 26
June 2008. The aide identified as Saiful Bahari lodged a complaint at the Travers police station in Brickfields, Kuala
Lumpur on 28 June 2008 alleging that Anwar had sodomized him in a condominium in an upscale
Kuala Lumpur suburb. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi suggested the police investigate the charge. On 30 June 2008, Anwar Ibrahim left the Turkish
embassy after having been assured safety and security.
Anwar Ibrahim dismissed the charge. He stated that the
allegations “are nothing more than a
replay of the events which transpired in 1998 when I was sacked from the office
of the deputy prime minister, jailed and beaten, and then charged and convicted
by a kangaroo court for crimes which I never committed.”
In 1998, he
was sentenced on the charge of sodomizing his driver and abusing his power to
cover up the deed. Subsequently, he was convicted on both charges. However,
Malaysia’s highest court overturned the sodomy conviction and freed him in
Anwar Ibrahim made a remarkable comeback in the March 2008 elections. The ruling National Front coalition received its worst-ever result. The opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim won 82
seats in the 222-member Parliament and gained control of five state assemblies.
The latest allegations came as Anwar Ibrahim indicated his readiness to
contest a by-election. Anwar Ibrahim could not
contest the elections in March because of his conviction for abuse of power that
barred him from holding political office for five years. The ban ended in April
II. Attacks on legitimate protest
Malaysians of Indian origin leaders are also facing repression for demanding an end to discrimination. The frustration of Malaysians of
Indian origin is seen as a major contributory factor to the poor performance of
the ruling coalition.
Ethnic Indians and Chinese complain that they get fewer opportunities in education,
business and jobs than the majority Malays. Out of Malaysia’s 27 million
people, Malays account for 60 per cent of the population, Indians make up
nearly eight per cent while ethnic Chinese make up 25 per cent.
The government of Malaysia have failed to release five leaders of the ‘Hindu Rights Action
Force (Hindraf)’ identified as P. Uthayakumar,
V. Ganabatirau, M. Manoharan,
T. Vasantha Kumar and R. Kengadharan. The five were arrested
Branch police officers on 13 December
2007 after holding a mass rally of ethnic Indians to protest their
marginalisation in the multi-racial country. They are held under the
Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows for indefinite detention without trial.
On 14 May
2008, Malaysia’s Federal court refused to free the leaders describing the
detention as lawful. The three-man panel led by Chief Judge of the Federal
Court, Malaya Alauddin Mohd Sheriff, upheld the High Court’s decision to quash the leader’s habeas corpus
application seeking release from detention under ISA. They ruled that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his capacity as the then Internal Security
Minister had rightly issued the detention order and had complied with the
procedural requirements under the Internal Security Act.
Those supporting the Indian origin leaders too have
been targeted. On 14 June 2008, six opposition activists including three
Members of Parliament (MPs) of Anwar Ibrahim’s Keadilan party were arrested outside Malaysia’s royal palace, where protesters held a
rally to plead for their release.
Apart from the Hindu leaders, other political activists have been arrested in circumstances
that raise concerns over the motives behind the detentions on fictitious ground.
BERSIH (Clean), a coalition of opposition political
parties and non-government organisations, has been demanding a Royal Commission
on Electoral Reform (RCER) to examine reforms to the existing electoral system.
On 15 February 2008, People’s Justice Party (PKR) Information Chief Tian Chua and BERSIH supporter Jalaluddin Abdul Manap were arrested after a submission of memorandum to the
King calling for a Royal Commission on Electoral Reform (RCER). Another
political activist Ginie Lim of the People’s Justice
Party was arrested at the Brickfields police station during her visit to Tian Chua and Jalaluddin Abdul Manap. She was arrested after she took picture of the
investigation officer, Inspector Hidayak who ordered
to carry away Tian Chua who resisted to be sent into
Earlier on 17 November 2007, BERSIH organized a massive rally to press for its demand to
ensure that national elections of March 2008 were fair. The government of Prime
Minister Abdullah Badawi denounced the protest stating:
“They are challenging me and I don’t like
being challenged.” According to police estimates, 245 people were arrested
under section 27 (5) of the Police Act, 1967 relating to illegal assembly.
Although they were later released on bail, they face prosecution and jail terms
of up to a year.
On 6 May 2008, Malaysia Today editor Raja Petra Kamaruddin and former banker Syed Akbar Ali were charged with sedition. Raja Petra Kamarudin, was charged in the Petaling Jaya Sessions court with sedition in connection with an article he wrote, titled “Let’s send the Altantuya murderers to hell” and posted up at www.malayia-today.net on 25 April 2008. Syed Akbar Ali was charged for allegedly posting seditious comments about Malays and Islam on Raja Petra’s article titled “Malaysia’s organized crime syndicate: All roads lead to Putrajaya”.
On 11 May
2008, two human rights defenders identified as Lau Shu Shi and Teh Chun Hong were arrested under Sections
27 and Section 90 of Police Act for protesting against Internal Security Act
rally held at Gurney Drive Roundabout in Penang.
III. Malaysia and change
Many hoped that the departure of Mahatir Mohammed would pave the
way for a more democratic Malaysia. But Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has had other ideas.
Popular demands for change were expressed. On 20 May 2008, Mahatir himself has resigned from the United Malays
National Organization (UMNO) calling for resignation of Prime Minister Badawi following the results of the elections in March
2008. Prime Minister Badawi has resisted the calls for his resignation but his legitimacy and support base is
The emergence of China and India as economic giants
has impacted the influence of Malaysia. Despite its remarkable economic and
social success, Malaysia’s three main races – Malays, Indians and Chinese live
increasingly separate lives. The Prime Minister Badawi government has failed to move beyond tokenism which fails to disguise an increasingly Malay-dominated profile.
The use of security and sedition laws to oppress legitimate peaceful protest is a symbol of government desperation and a signal of change. The international community’s interest is not in propping up the status quo. The international community must not fail democracy.
. Anwar takes up refuge offer from Turkish embassy, The Star, 30 June 2008
. Malaysian-Indians rally for release of detained leaders, available at: http://in.news.yahoo.com/pti/20080614/r_t_pti_wl_intl/twl-malaysian-indians-rally-for-release-f86d152.html
. Ginie Lim Arrested, All Three Detainees Remanded for 3 Days, Suaram.Net, 16 February 2008
. Drop Charges against Raja
. Two Human Rights Defenders Released on Police Bail, Sauram.Net, 12 May 2008