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Sedition N OSA Arrests - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

18/1/2000 1:04 am Tue

Politics And the Sedition and OSA arrests

The Prime Minister, after the general elections, called upon Malaysians to re-unite after a fractious campaign; and his government quickly made that difficult by arresting three opposition politicians, the editor of the PAS party newspaper, "Harakah", and its printer. Four are charged under the Sedition Act, the other under the Official Secrets Act, with its mandatory one year jail sentence on conviction. The timing, clearly political, was to a#suage bruised egos in UMNO, still smarting from the general elections results, before party elections in May. The National Front was returned with a three-quarters majority but UMNO lost 22 of the 94 seats it had in the dissolved House, and with narrower majorities; lost two states and another nearly; the chinese parties, MCA and Gerakan, lost further ground with their ill-timed quarrel on who should lead Penang. Despite the overwhelming majority, the National Front is under tremendous pressure, largely from within. Once doubts surface about a prosecution, as now, the ground is lost. The men have been charged, but the government is unnerved to continue to insist upon, after the men had been charged, its uninvolvement in the process, with not much success. The law minister, Dato' Rais Yatim, even insists that since the trials have begun, it is sub judice and should not be questioned. For the ministers to continue to insist that those charged happened to be opposition figures unfortunately does not wash in the contested Malay political ground.

The arrest of Mr Karpal Singh, who is also counsel for the jailed deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in his current s###my trial, is particularly galling. He has become the first lawyer in the Commonwealth to be arrested for his advocacy on behalf of his client in a trial not yet finished. He is accused of sedition for suggesting not a violent overthrow of the government but of a political conspiracy to do his client in. Indeed the sedition arrests are over doubts expressed about the official view. But the government has used the narrow definition that this undermines national security or provokes racial discord. Mr Singh wants the case moved from the sessions court to the high court. An important principle is at stake, he insists, which should be defined eventually by the Federal Court. Mr Zulkifly Sulong, the editor of Harakah and his printer are charged, like Mr Singh, for carrying an article alleging a government conspiracy. Ms Marina Yusof commented on UMNO's role in the May 13 racial riots, a view the government insists promotes racial discord. The former political secretary to Dato' Seri Anwar, Mr Mohamed Ezam Mohamed Noor, is charged under the Official Secrets Act, which provides for a minimum one year jail sentence on conviction, for allegedly releasing documents highlighting official corruption.

Where once the UMNO ground would have accepted official declarations of uninvolvement in prosecutions, this is no longer so. This accounts for the continued explanations from ministers about it. And they have to continue explaining as May approaches. Again, the matter was not thought through. The fallout began with the ill-thought out expulsion of Dato' Seri Anwar. Sixteen months after the event, the government continues to be unnerved by it. His current s###my trial was postponed before the elections ostensibily because of the judge's backache, but the new date comes amidst UMNO branch and divisional elections. That is clouded in an UMNO Supreme Council call for no-contests for the presidency and deputy presidency. When that backfired, the Prime Minister and deputy prime minister, instead of the secretary-general, had to "explain" matters as now. That the government has focussed on these charges, instead of the numerous police reports that Dato' Seri Anwar had filed against his former cabinet colleagues, with proof, itself adds to doubts about political non-interference. But the Ezam case raises another intriguing point: if he should be convicted, then it is proof that what he is alleged to have distributed is an official document. Since that document relates to ministerial corruption, the government would then have to act against those mentioned. Dare it?

But with the Anwar s###my trial resuming, and with the Prime Minister and others almost certainly defence witnesses, the arrests and charging in court have become appendages to the political confrontation with Hang Jebat Mahathir and Hang Tuah Anwar. In the Malay cultural mind, the Prime Minister reveals himself to be the power-hungry Hang Jebat and Dato' Seri Anwar the exiled loyalist who mounts a rear-guard action. The Malay ground dismisses official explanations, even if the others believe them, why Dato' Seri Anwar is jailed for corruption, then charged for s###my, and why the five men were arrested last week. The matter is inherently political. The Keadilan's vice president, Mr Tien Chua's call for public demonstrations on 25 January is misplaced, but neverthless underscores the Malay dilemma. He should not have called for it. The Prime Minister's appearance in court would have the same effect. Since the arrest, the two men have not met (except shortly after the Prime Minister under the ISA, the Prime Minister visited him to offer him safe conduct out of the country if Dato' Seri Anwar would promise not to return for five years). This would be well be a replay of the Hang Jebat-Hang Tuah duel of yore.

M.G.G. Pillai