Aliran Media Statement

The Rakyat have Awakened and They want Justice 

The government and police authorities do not seem to realise that Malaysia's political culture has been dramatically transformed and that the ordinary rakyat have awakened. The recent allegations in Court by Anwar Ibrahim's defence counsel that Anwar had probably been poisoned while in custody has further confirmed for many that the BN government has become morally bankrupt and can no longer be trusted.

In fact the absurd and insensitive comments by Dr Mahathir and other BN leaders - how was the urine sample taken out? why use a false name? why the delay in revealing the results? etc - further shows that they have lost all sense of compassion and decency. It sends shivers down one's spine that they are our nation's leaders.

Or were Dr Mahathir and the others trying to distract us from the central issue of Anwar's poisoning? Were they trying to cover-up some misdeed?

In most other countries, the media would have investigated these allegations and demanded answers. But here in Malaysia, true to form, the media did nothing of that sort. It said very little. And when it did, it was the silly comments of Mahathir and others that were highlighted. At best the rakyat were fed half-truths.

This is why Malaysians concerned with justice and truth fear for Anwar's well-being. They suspect foul play. Hence Anwar's supporters, opposition party leaders, NGOs and numerous other Malaysians demand that a Royal Commission of Enquiry be set up. Instead, the government announced that an investigation would be carried out by the police. Yet just a year ago the then police chief had shamelessly assaulted a blind-folded and hand-cuffed Anwar while under police custody. Moreover, this fact was only revealed after a Royal Commission of Enquiry had been established; the earlier internal investigation by the police having ended without revealing the culprit. For many Malaysians, therefore, setting up another police investigation is futile, if not irrelevant.

There was no choice. Their request was rejected. And the usual avenue - via the media - for expressing one's protests and objections being denied, the rakyat were forced to take their legitimate dissent to the streets.

The assembly at the National Mosque on 19 September was large - an estimated 10,000 people - but peaceful and orderly. From there they intended to proceed to the palace to petition the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for a Royal Commission of Enquiry to be established.

According to the demonstrators as well as neutral observers, this peaceful assembly turned chaotic only when the police charged the crowd and started beating some of them indiscriminately. Opposition party leaders have dared the BN government to screen unedited video recordings of the incident to confirm the truth of the matter.

Consider also the fact that a keADILan public rally involving about 10,000 people was held the following night in Kampong Medan. Nothing untoward happened. The police did not disrupt. And the meeting remained peaceful and orderly. In other words, had the police not charged and disrupted the 19 September meeting but allowed the demonstrators to gather and petition the Agong, chances are no violence whatsoever would have occurred.

Instead, a first group of six people including a 65-year old man were arrested on 19 September for allegedly participating in an illegal assembly. All six had to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment. These six people have been remanded between 4 to 8 days. Another two juveniles originally detained have been released by the magistrate's court.

On 20 September, four others were arrested for allegedly participating in the same illegal assembly on 19 September. They were Sivarasa Rasiah (Suaram), Dr Hatta Ramli (Pas), Hishamuddin Rais (film director) and Mohd Azmin Ali (KeADILan). When brought to Court on 21 September, they declared in a joint statement that their arrest and detention was "an act of oppression", an attempt "to intimidate us from our struggle for justice" and was "punishment for our political struggle and our acts of peaceful dissent". Their statement defiantly concluded: "for every one who is jailed ten more will rise to take his/her place". Together with Dr Badrul Amin Baharun (keADILan) who was arrested the next day, they were remanded for another five days.

On 21 September, two other keADILan leaders, Tian Chua and Mohd Ezam, were also summoned and detained for questioning. Apparently, others are also being sought by the police authorities.

These detained opposition party leaders have been described as "hard core" by the authorities and are apparently suspected to be the organisers of the 19 September demonstration. But evidently, these leaders themselves were surprised by the large turn-out. All indications are that the demonstration occurred rather spontaneously after word went out that keADILan leaders would be petitioning the palace.

Aliran calls upon the police authorities to drop all charges and release these individuals immediately. Rather than investigate these individuals, they should investigate how Malaysia's political culture has been dramatically transformed and the rakyat awakened. It will then be obvious why so many people have spontaneously participated in the 19 September and other assemblies over the past year. It will also become obvious that the rakyat can no longer be denied their civil and political rights nor will they accept the arbitrary and authoritarian antics of the BN leaders.

Aliran takes this opportunity to repeat the popular call that a Royal Commission of Enquiry into allegations of Anwar's poisoning while under custody be established immediately.

Dr Francis Loh
22 September 1999