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MGG Anwar Ibrahim Goes On A Hunger Strike
By Kapal Berita

11/10/2000 9:10 pm Wed

THE SUNGEI BULOH PRISON authorities would not allow the former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to visit his sick mother recently. He had visited her a fortnight earlier, her condition deteriorated since, the authorities would not relent. Appeals are useless. The Home Ministry decides, not the prison authorities, how he should be treated as a prisoner. He is in solitary confinement, which under prison regulations, should be for misbehaviour while serving sentence. The courts and the authorities bend over backwards to make his prison sojourn as uncomfortable as possible. So, he went on a hunger strike to visit his terminally ill mother. He is not well. He outstared the authorities, upped the ante in this ceaseless confrontation between the Prime Minister and the Prisoner. The prison authorities backed down, and he visited his mother in hospital.

He Who Must Be Destroyed At All Cost should not expect special treatment, an UMNO bigwig bellowed into my ears. He is a criminal serving a sentence, and he should not expect special favours, he insisted. But he is not. He does not ask for special favours. He wanted to see his seriously sick mother. Is the prison regimen so insentive that prisoners are not allowed to visit a terminally ill parent or other member of his family even more frequently than the rules allow? If so, something wrong with a penal system that prevents it. This is as serious as, if not more, than the jueveniles held in adult prisons waiting for their cases to be heard. When a man goes to jail, he loses his liberty, but he is not shut out from his family and his world. But if a prisoner has to go on a hunger strike before he is allowed to visit his sick mother, then surely something is wrong somewhere. Besides, if he is barred, under prison regulations, to visit her on compassionate grounds, why did they relent when he went on a hunger strike? Rules, surely, must be rules.

The courts convicted him of s###my and corruption, he is deprived of his liberty since September 1998, his appeals against a total of 15 years imprisonment wend its way through the courts, which must be successful in the present regime. When the chief justice refuses to recuse in a routine appeal despite an impassioned request from Dato' Seri Anwar on grounds of corruption and other malfeasance of office, the political framework of the appeals are set. Freedom of expression is no better expressed than when an accused is allowed to speak on his behalf. But the courts would rather he keep quiet. His continued incarceration is political, as former President Nelson Mandela of South Africa was though sentenced to life imprisonment on criminal charges. The Prime Minister cannot discuss the state of the economy or the environment or the world in foreign climes without a question about Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim. His visits overseas are rudely interrupted by pro-Anwar supporters, many of whom Malaysian, and only when overseas would he dare to speak before a Malaysian audience. His difficulties in this regard is the way his administration has dealt with his former deputy prime minister.

As I have argued before, it does not matter what happens to Dato' Seri Anwar. The movement he spawned, not deliberately but as a consequence of what happened to him, took a life of its own and remains a thorn in the Prime Minister's shoe. The momentum is not what it was, but it energised the Malaysian Malay diaspora to demand changes in his political and cultural worldview. Many of its websites are dormant, as are many organisations that rose in sympathy. But an active core of webmasters and political supporters act, sometimes impetiously and mistakenly, at other times brilliantly, that the National Front and UMNO is kept on its toes. UMNO, whose deputy president Dato' Seri Anwar once was, is vitrified, unable to function because the Malay political and cultural ground, even amongst its members, cannot disabuse from their minds the horrendous injustice meted out to its once leader-to-be. Not only UMNO. The civil service openly defy the Prime Minister, with senior adminstrative and diplomatic service officers openly telling him, as they did in December last year, he must go, that the Anwar imbroglio upsets them all, and that he if he did not go soon, the administative and political doldrums must continue. All because a man changed his residence from the deputy prime minister's to Sungei Buloh prison!

M.G.G. Pillai