Call on Ministers and newspapers editors to exercise greater intellectual honesty and moral courage on issues of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya, Tuesday): Two days ago, Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, misled  Malaysians and the world when he claimed that the government was just upholding the law in the arrest and prosecution of DAP Deputy Chairman and former five-term MP for Jelutong Karpal Singh, Parti Keadilan Nasional  Vice President Marina Yusoff, KeADILan Youth chief Mohamed  Ezam Mohd Noor, Harakah editor  Zulkifly Sulong and Harakah printer Cheah Lim Thye under the Sedition  and Official Secrets Acts.

Responding to the statement by the US State Department spokesman James Foley that the US shared widely-expressed concerns that the arrests were “a transparent and cynical attempt to intimidate the Government’s opponents and stifle legitimate political discourse”, Abdullah said the United States had no right to comment on the recent arrests of opposition leaders and activists.

Abdullah’s stand has now been echoed by the mainstream media, such as the New Straits Times, Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian all carrying editorials today along the same line, such as the NST leader  under the heading “THREAT TO INDEPENDENCE” , declaring:

Malaysia rejected, and rightly and honourably so, the conviction of Nelson Mandela for treason by the white supremacist apartheid government in 1965 and actively took part in an international campaign for his release from life imprisonment at Robben Island - which resulted in Nelson Mandela being freed after 27 years’ in imprisonment and his election as South African President.

Is anyone in the Barisan Nasional or the mainstream media  suggesting that this was an unwarranted interference in the domestic affairs of apartheid South Africa?

The United States government had oftentimes been a ‘big bully’ in international politics throwing its weight around, as well as being hypocritical and applying double-standards in its concern for democracy and human rights.

However, the United States being an “international bully” and hypocritical on issues of democracy and human rights cannot be a justification or  excuse for the  Malaysian government to undermine the rule of law and  violate human rights and democracy or to use them to counter  legitimate criticisms from whatever quarter, both local and international, about the recent crackdown against Opposition leaders and activists.

Cabinet Ministers and newspapers editors should  exercise greater intellectual honesty and moral courage on issues of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance. They should not continue to take  Malaysians for granted by treating them as incapable of differentiating right from wrong.

In this connection, I find it very sad that the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim, seems to have undergone such a swift and dramatic transformation in his public persona  in the past month.

When out of the Cabinet in the past decade, he was such an eloquent and refreshing voice for freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law, but in less than a month of his return to Cabinet, Rais is emerging as the loudest voice of intolerance and unreason in government.

For instance, the Sun of January 15, 2000 quoted Rais  as telling the public  at a Hari Raya open house in Pertang, Negri Sembilan “not to discuss or comment” about Karpal Singh being charged with sedition “until the trial concludes and the court makes its decision”.

Twenty-four hours later, Rais became even more hardlined  and warned critics that they could be arrested and  prosecuted. New Sunday Times  of January 16, 2000 under the headline “Prove accusations or face court action, warns Rais” reported him as saying that “Those who allege the Government has a hand in the prosecution of prominent opposition leaders should realise they too can be prosecuted for spreading lies”.

Can Rais explain if it is not the government which had a hand in the prosecution of Opposition leaders and activists, who then was responsible in  prosecuting them?  Can Rais name an entity responsible for the arrest and prosecution of Karpal and other Opposition leaders and activists  which had nothing to do whatsoever with the government?

Surely Rais is not suggesting that the Attorney-General has nothing to do with the Government?

But what is most sad is that Rais could so quickly switch roles - from an eloquent and refreshing voice for freedom of speech,  human rights and the rule of law to become their biggest enemy!

As the Cabinet Minister responsible for law and justice, instead of hectoring and intimidating Malaysians from expressing their views about the crackdown against Opposition leaders and activisits, Rais should use his influence to close the widening gulf between law and justice by persuading the government to drop all charges against Karpal, Marina, Ezam, Zulkifly and Cheah.

Let there be a new beginning for law and justice in Malaysia in the new millennium, where public confidence in the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary can be fully restored.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman