Lest We Forget

by D J Muzaffar Tate

The recent past has brought back in focus the central figure of the drama which has convulsed our lives over the past twelve months. It has reawakened the bitter memories of that night almost exactly a year ago when he was arrested, commando-style, in his own home, taken to Bukit Aman to be beaten up and abandoned without proper medical attention for several days, leaving the legacy of the bruise for all the world to see a couple of weeks later. It has revived the images of his first trial, which to the laymanís untutored eye -- though apparently not to that of the presiding judge (but the law is an ass) -- has laid bare an unsavoury tale of trickery, deception and intrigue in the highest places.

Nor can we forget its culmination with his being found guilty (technically) of corruption, for which the price was six years in jail plus plus. It has reminded us of the lurid confessions of some of his friends and associations and their subsequent retractions -- although these too were apparently irrelevant to the processes of justice.

Not Only His Future But Ours Too

It is a timely reminder because it brings forcefully home to us once again that it is not only his future which is at stake but also ours. It is a question not of the Rule of Law, which demands that no man be greater than the law, but of Rule by Law, where the law becomes an instrument used by those in power for their own particular ends. Regardless of his former status and position, he is now an ordinary citizen, like the rest of us, pitted against the naked might of the State.

Such things are not supposed to happen in a democratic country. In fact our Constitution contains various provisions for the protection and maintenance of the rights of the private citizen, including freedom of expression, association and assembly and fair trial before an independent judiciary. But, as the trial and associated events have made only too clear, the State is able to circumvent these safeguards and blatantly ignore them. The issue, therefore, is no more or less than one of basic human rights, the rights and liberties of the individual subject.

Yet we are in danger of forgetting these fundamentals. This, though, is hardly surprising, since for over the past twelve months the party in power in this country has gone overboard in its at_tempts to persuade us to forget. It has used all the machinery of government at its disposal and has employed every trick of the trade to achieve this end. We have been threatened, cajoled and bullied, and offered bribes and blandishments.

Ocean Of Official Propaganda

The national media (which, by the way, actually belongs to us since we pay for it through our licences) has been shamelessly used by the ruling party to bombard us with slanted information, loaded half truths and specious arguments through the regular news bulletins, and by a detail of ruling party hacks, establishment-conscious academics and self-seeking intellectuals. Black be_comes white and white becomes black. It is not patriotic to criticise the ruling party, but it is to criticise the Opposition. A peaceful demonstration becomes a riot (with a little help from your friends). A fair trial, in case you did not know, is one where the defence holds the best lawyers in town, so that whether the judge is straight or crooked or whether he has the last word is totally irrelevant. National unity is endangered and there will be mayhem and murder if the Opposition wins, so we are told by those politicians in power whose very own actions have created the crisis and undermined our unity.

Bread and Circuses

On the other hand, select groups of people -- to their natural and just delight -- have suddenly found themselves the recipients of bonuses or delayed allowances while yet others have seen their pay packets doubled. All power to their elbow, but where does the money come from? Not to worry -- Malaysia Boleh! Moreover, in a crowded year or so we have climbed the highest mountain, sailed solo around the world, done bungee jumps over the North Pole -- all honour and praise to the gallant performers; but could they have done it without the cash?

And if you need a hand-out, attend a ruling party rally -- free bussing, free food, and free umbrellas. In fact, it has been all bread and circuses: - Bukit Jalil and the Commonwealth Games; the KLIA and Putra Jaya (donít forget the palace which the poisoned one schemed to make his own); the Twin Towers and all that; the new Grand Prix motor-racing circuit at Sepang and some of the poshest golf-courses in the world.

But the master card for the powers that be has been the economy. We have defied the world, we have done our own thing, we have thwarted the crafty foreigner and his attempts to re-colonise us. And now we are well on the road to recovery. But, so, incidentally, are some other Asian countries which did not take our good Doctorís medicine, and a good number of them at a faster rate than us.

Nevertheless, our minds have been taken off uncomfortable issues as we marvel at our achievements. But, take note: at the same time -- with the notable exception of our boss who for reasons of State felt compelled to vilify our poisoned friend in prison while the charges against him had yet to be proved in court -- no attempt has ever been made by any member of the ruling caste to face up to and address the real issue raised by the whole affair, that is the perversion of basic human, democratic rights.

We Want Civil Liberties and Development

Very recently a leading member of our legal fraternity suggested that the people of Malaysia had tacitly accepted a curtailment (if only for the time being) of their political rights in exchange for stability and economic progress, as if human rights were something that was divisible. But human rights are not divisible. If basic civil rights mean little to a starving man, life for a prosperous one without the personal freedom of a democratic society is equally as meaningless. No, Your Honour, we need both if we really want to make life worthwhile. That is why we cannot forget the case of Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Nevertheless, there remains the very grave danger that despite all the glaringly obvious signs that our basic political rights and freedoms as citizens are at stake, many people will still be taken for a ride by the ocean of official propaganda which inundates us. This especially applies to those who do not have access to alternative points of view, whether through the Internet (awas -- use with caution) or through independent publications such as Harakah, Ekslusif or Aliran -- which means in effect the great bulk of our population.

We must spread the word as widely as possible and explain clearly what are the issues at stake. We must be prepared to stand up for our rights as citizens if we wish to have a future for our children which is not overshadowed by an entrenched oligarchy which arrogates all power to itself. Let us never forget that.