Just as Malaysians were beginning to reel from the tremor of alien proportions that emerged as a result of the comical ban by the Home Ministry on an Ultraman comic, they encountered yet another rude shock from the Judiciary, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
Najib Razak’s nemesis, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced on 7 March 2014 to five years imprisonment after the Court of Appeals found the latter guilty of sodomy.
Prior to Anwar’s legal case, the ban on the Ultraman comic, which gained worldwide attention from various media outlets, stemmed from aseemingly erroneous translation of god into the now controversial word Allah. A Home Ministry official assured Malaysians that this ban was to prevent Muslims – whose faith seems to be ever so brittle – from being confused by themistaken use of the term.
As we all know, this incident came on the heels of arecent court case to decide on the appeal filed by the Catholic Church over the use of the word Allah in its publication Herald. As it turned out, the seven-man panel of the Federal Court reserved judgment on the leave application. To be sure, there was a heavy and unruly presence of the Perkasa types in the vicinity of the court.
Meanwhile, withunholy haste, the Court of Appeals fixed the date of hearing for the prosecutor’s appeal against Anwar’s sodomy acquittal on 7 March 2014, a hair’s breadth away from nomination day (11 March) for the Kajang by-election. As expected by most sceptical Malaysians, the three-person panel handed down a hasty judgment that Anwar was guilty of sodomy, and hence he could be ineligible to contest in the Kajang by-election. He, however, was released on bail of RM10,000 pending appeal. Predictably, the judgment elicited an outcry and outrage, both locally and internationally.
Malaysians’ sense of justice was earlier jolted when Karpal Singh, the MP for Bukit Gelugor, was found guilty by the KL High Court on 21 February 2014 of deliberate disrespect towards the Sultan of Perak under the questionable Sedition Act. Karpal, at the material time, was giving his legal opinion pertaining to the ‘Perak Constitutional Crisis’ of 2009. Concerned citizens felt that Karpal’s conviction was a case of political prosecution.
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Speaking truth to power – no matter how noble your intention is as a responsible citizen of our beloved country – can land you in trouble. This hard fact was personally learned by no less than 46-year-old Major Zaidi Ahmad of the Royal Malaysian Air Force. He faces seven charges after alerting the public that the ink the Election Commission promised was indelible was easily washed off at the recent general election.
One suspects that Zaidi has been made an example of by the powers that be so that no other civil servants would in future dare to seek justice and fairness in the government. If found guilty, Zaidi may lose a lot, including his pension. To show appreciation of and support for this gallantry, a Bersih delegation paid him avisit recently.
Talking a walk on the peaceful side
In recent years, tensions have prevailed, hovering around issues of religion and ethnicity in the country. Some of the mischievous took to the streets, sometimes violently; if not they coolly performed a ‘bottoms up’dance, while there were other Malaysians who felt the need to visibly promote peace among the variousreligious communities. Instead of lobbing off, rather cowardly in the wee hours of the morning, what was rumoured to be pork into a mosque or throwing Molotov cocktailsinto the grounds of a church in Penang, a group of peace-seekers, called ‘Malaysians for Malaysia’ organised ‘Walking in the Park’ events in KL and Penang recently in an effort to build bridges. It is certainly an endeavour worth commending and celebrating in the midst of apparently unbridled extremist overtures.
That dirty word called censorship
As always in the recent past, Malaysia’s press freedom yet again took a tumble, but only to be denied by the Najib administration. The government insisted that the country has freer media, particularly online media.
True, but the mainstream media are still shackled in many ways, and that doesn’t make the entire media industry any freer. Just witness the government clampdown on the business radio station, BFM, after it conducted an interview with, no prizes for guessing here, Anwar Ibrahim on the Kajang by-election. Yes, that nemesis of Najib Razak. And, the revocation of the publishing permit for the FZ daily is yet another manifestation of a controlled media industry in Malaysia.
Malaysians indeed deserve freer and socially responsible media so that they can report things freely and provide a platform for citizens to express their views and, more importantly, make the government more accountable. There are pressing issues which require the swift attention of the media as well as of the ruling group, particularly the rising cost of living that puts into sharp focus the yawning gap between the haves and the have-nots.
These issues must not be allowed to be marginalised in the media or swept away under the proverbial carpet. For, far too long issues of national import have been concealed from public scrutiny to the extent that the political, social and economic health of the country has become increasingly worse and worrying.
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Well, start by supporting groups working for reform and change.
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Mustafa K Anuar
8 March 2014
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