What can I do to free Anwar?

William Leong Jee Keen
Member of Parliament Selayang
23 February 2015

Time for Decisive Action

Tonight is the 13th night Anwar Ibrahim, a prisoner of conscience, with mosquitoes feeding on him is forced to sleep with a spinal injury on the cold hard floor of Sungai Buloh prison. A suffering he has to endure for another 5 years. Like Prometheus, Anwar is punished for giving Malaysians the fire of Hope, opening their eyes to the Truth and unlocking their minds from Prejudices.

Tonight is the 13th night we are holding this vigil to bring to light the injustice Anwar is suffering. They jailed him fearing they will lose the next election. But aiming to free him, will spur us to win.

However, we must work hard. We have fewer than 150 weeks to the next election, fewer than 1,000 nights to put Anwar back, fewer than 25,000 minutes to take firm and decisive action to free Anwar, to free Malaysia.

The 4 Challenges:

Anwar dedicated himself to fight oppression, corruption, inequality, and injustice. There isn’t and never was a Malay problem, Chinese problem, Indian problem, Kadazan or an Iban problem. It has always been a Malaysian problem. And only when we all think and act as Malaysians can we solve this problem. But there are those who do not. They want to keep us apart, separated and divided. They ask the young to sacrifice for their race while they reap the profits from the discord sown.

In the days ahead we have to surmount difficult challenges and we must be prepared to meet them. The elections are not free and fair; they carry out gerrymandering, malapportionment, change the boundaries to their advantage, the electoral roll is not clean, we are denied media access while the media is the mouthpiece of their propaganda, they arrest and jail our leaders, charging them for sedition, prevent us from holding rallies, while they get away with calling for the burning of bibles, disparaging other races and religions, creating anxieties and tensions.

To achieve victory requires a level of opposition mobilization, unity, skill and heroism far beyond what is normally required for victory in a democracy. To snatch victory from the jaws of defeat we must first overcome 4 challenges.

The 1st Challenge: Creating Political Awareness in the Social Media Users

The first challenge is creating political awareness in social media users. We have, today, in our hands the social media. The internet has toppled dictators in the Arab Spring, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia but it has also failed in Belarus to remove the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, the last dictator of Europe. It failed in Iran.

The social media is the most powerful tool for mobilizing and disseminating information against authoritarian regimes but only if there is political awareness by the users. Otherwise, social media remains an insipid medium for commerce, social affairs and entertainment. Little political change can happen without dissemination and adoption of ideas even on the internet. To win the hearts and minds of the uninformed, access to information is not as important as access to conversations. People’s minds are changed when friends, family members and colleagues share and echo political opinions. Casual participants cannot hope to succeed in creating political change merely by clicking on “like”- it is no more effective than a bumper sticker- long on sentiment, short on any useful action. Commenting and sharing showcases people’s opinions, leaving a stronger effect than merely liking an idea. A better world comes only when committed actors use the social media effectively for real world action. Steve Jobs said: “It is not faith in technology. It is faith in people.” Long term democratic success or failure depends upon people not technology.

Putting the Judgment into the Full Glare of Public Scrutiny

The battle in social media started even before the Federal Court Judges finished reading the judgment and sentencing. They always try to censor, intimidate and spread disinformation. They know the judgment cannot stand up to close examination.

Even now, Khalid Abu Bakar @KBAB51 is watching you, the IGP is monitoring Facebook and Twitter, investigating our MPs who tweeted or commented about the Federal Court decision. The Chief Justice, Tun Ariffin Zakaria and the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Patail warned the lawyers and the public not to criticise the judiciary. Shafee Abdullah wants Christopher Leong and Ambiga Sreenevasan, the present and past Bar Council president to be charged for contempt on their remarks about the court judgment.

Yet, Shafee Abdullah and the UMNO youth are going around, unmolested, holding forums and seminars to defend the indefensible and attack Anwar, who cannot be there to defend himself.

The Chief Justice and AG say that criticism must stop as it will erode public confidence in the administration of justice. I say the criticism must continue so injustice can be corrected and public confidence restored in the administration of justice.

They may have power inside the country to intimidate us and to bury the truth but they are powerless outside the country and cannot prevent the truth from being exposed. The governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, the European Union and many others immediately criticised the court decision. The embassies and high commissions of these countries sent observers to cover Anwar’s trial. They all concluded that Anwar should not have been charged, much less convicted.

Likewise, respected international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights said the same thing. The International Commission of Jurists and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) also condemned the court’s verdict. Mark Trowell, a Queen’s Counsel who represented IPU, LAWASIA and the Law Council of Australia said the Federal Court decision lacked a detailed analysis of the facts. He said the court rejected or ignored evidence that raised serious doubts about the reliability of the evidence and credibility of the complainant.

These comments and criticisms are all over the internet. We must forward to, pass on and share these comments and insights with our family, friends and colleagues, so that Malaysians will know the truth and can make the final judgment. Truth must prevail.

Evil prevails when good men stand by and do nothing. We will be complicit to injustice if we keep silent on Anwar’s case. There is no contempt when we criticise a judgment in good faith. Proceedings in an open court is the basic foundation of transparency and public confidence in the judiciary. The rule of openness entails that reasons for the judgment are public information and therefore subject to scrutiny of the parties, the media, bar, legal scholars and ultimately the public. The public must be allowed to discuss and publish accounts of the proceedings, examinations and decisions. Lord Atkin explained in the Privy Council case of Andre Paul Terence Ambard v The Attorney-General of Trinidad and Tobago [1936] AC 322 at 335:

“Whether the authority and position of an individual judge, or the due administration of justice, is concerned, no wrong is committed by any member of the public who exercises the ordinary right of criticising in good faith, in private or public, the public act done in the seat of justice. The path of criticism is a public way: the wrong-headed are permitted to err therein; provided that members of the public abstain from imputing improper motives to those taking part in the administration of justice, and are genuinely exercising a right of criticism, and not acting in malice or attempting to impair the administration of justice, they are immune. Justice is not a cloistered virtue; she must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful, even though outspoken, comments of ordinary men.”

Jeremy Bentham, the 19th Century English philosopher said: “In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest in every shape, have full swing. Only in proportion as publicity has place can any checks, applications to judicial injustice, operate. Where there is no publicity there is no justice”

If the judgment accords with the facts, law and justice there should be no fear for the judgment to be held up to the full light of public scrutiny and the blazing glare of public criticism. It is only where there is disrepute, dishonour, disingenuousness, dishonesty and injustice must it be hidden in darkness and silence. We must not just click on “like” but we must click on “share” so Malaysians can pass the final judgment and hold those responsible to account.

The 2nd Challenge: Fear of Futility

The second challenge is the fear of futility. It is the fear that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the array of forces; money, machinery and media at the disposal of those we are up against.

A few nights ago, I was distributing oranges in the night market as part of our Chinese New Year greetings to the people. A young girl came up to me and asked “What can I do to free Anwar?”

I told her the best thing she can do to free Anwar is to stand up against injustice. Stand up for your rights. When we stand up and speak up for what is right you remove the power of those who oppress us, those responsible for putting Anwar Ibrahim in jail. An oppressor’s power is ultimately dependent on the support from the people. His moral authority and power rests upon the co-operation and support of the people. If the people support an oppressor then the oppressor is powerful but if the people withdraw support then even the biggest oppressor will disintegrate.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat in the coloured section of the bus to a white. Rosa Parks’ act of defiance became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. President Lyndon Johnson in his speech “We Shall Overcome” asking Congress to approve the Civil Rights Bill said: “The real hero of this struggle is the American Negro. His actions and protests, his courage to risk safety, and even to risk his life, have awakened the conscience of this nation. His demonstrations have been designed to call attention to injustice, designed to provoke change, designed to stir reform. He has been called upon to make good the promise of America.”

The Civil Rights Bill was passed in 1965 and in 2008 America elected a president based on the content of his character and not the colour of his skin. The courage of one woman awakened the conscience of a nation.

What is needed is for one young girl, like the one who accepted my mandarin orange, to stand up. Each time a man or a woman stands up, he or she creates a ripple of hope and when a million stand up the ripples become a mighty current that can sweep away even the strongest wall of oppression.

The young girl with the mandarin orange, like Rosa Parks, is ready to stand up and create her the ripple, will you stand up and start the ripples of your own?

The 3rd Challenge: The Danger of Inertia

The third challenge is the danger of inertia, the lack of resolute commitment. Very often I am told by well-meaning supporters why don’t you say this or that. We are waiting for someone else to say it or to do it. We are always waiting for someone else to lead while we cheer and support from the safety and comfort of our living room sofa.

We all know the stories of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. They are our heroes. Where are our Malaysian heroes they ask? Karpal Singh was killed in an accident last year, Anwar Ibrahim is in jail and Tok Guru Nik Aziz passed away a few days ago. Are we to sit quietly by waiting for the next Messiah or the next hero to show up or do we make a stand now?

I was at a forum in Ipoh some months ago, a member of the audience asked where is Malaysia’s Martin Luther King? Where is our Gandhi? I told him the Malaysian Martin Luther King or next Gandhi is standing right in front of us. All of us can be leaders and all of us can be followers, if we can find the courage and commitment to stand up and speak up against injustice. It is not just the leader who must stand up and speak. It is all of us.

In 1936, Mahatma Gandhi started a 248 mile trek to illegally make salt from the sea with 79 other ordinary Indians to protest British Colonial Rule. This grew into thousands by the time he reached the sea. At the Dharasana Salt Works, ordinary Indians who did not raise even an arm to fend off the blows were beaten by the police. The ensuing publicity attracted world attention to the Indian independence movement and brought into question the legitimacy of British rule in India. India obtained independence in 1947.

Gandhi did not undertake the salt march on his own. He could not have done it without the thousands and millions who joined in. It was the resolute commitment of ordinary Indians that succeeded in winning independence against the might of an empire where the sun never sets.

Malaysians of all walks of lives have to find the resolute commitment to fight for change. You have to decide which side of history you want to be on. There is always the danger and temptation to follow the easy and familiar paths and let others take the road less travelled. We are now at the cross-roads, it is the time for choosing. Everyone will ultimately be judged by the effort and contribution he or she has made towards the new order. You would want to tell your children and grandchildren that you were there and contributed towards bringing down the walls of oppression.

The 4th Challenge: Lack of Courage of Conviction

The fourth challenge is the danger of a lack of moral courage, a lack of the courage of conviction. Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues and the wrath of society.

Every day we see injustice. In the office, in schools, in dealing with government departments and agencies. It is not easy to speak up against injustice. If we speak up we may face injustice ourselves. We fear retribution, disapproval, damaged relationships. However, simply being offended when we see injustice is not enough. We must summon the courage and commitment to confront our fears and take action. If we just keep quiet we become part of the injustice.

Moral courage to coolly carry out non-violent resistance is far more difficult to muster than physical courage in the heat of a battlefield. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change the nation. We will have to draw deeply from this quality when we face those who oppose change and who would use all in their might to prevent change. They fan the flame of emotions, suspicions, and hatred, they chained the unsuspecting and uninformed by playing on their fears of race and religion; they do this because this is the only choice for those who reject calm reason and rational acts of minds free to the demands of justice. The demands of justice is that no man should be judged by the colour of his skin or the faith which he believes in. This is a battle against discrimination, prejudice and bigotry.

Let no man think that he is fighting this battle for Anwar or for others. He is fighting this battle for himself and for his family and for the future of his children and so do we all. When today you abet those who rule to deprive a man of his liberty, his property, his dignity because of the colour of his skin or the beliefs he holds then tomorrow you may also suffer when those who rule turns against you and find other reasons and differences to exclude you in favour of his own. We must let go of these chains.

Robert Kennedy said: “Our liberty can grow only when the liberties of all our fellow men are secure; and he who would enslave others ends only by chaining himself, for chains have two ends, and he who holds the chain is as surely bound as he whom it holds.”

We must reach out to each other to break the chains that bind us. This was done in South Africa. In 1948, the ruling party of the South African Government started the system of racial segregation known as apartheid. In 1949, the youth wing of the African National Congress advocated a programme to overthrow the white authority through a series of mass campaign. The government then declared a state of emergency. More than 18,000 people were arrested including leaders of the ANC and the organisation banned.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years but the struggle did not end with his imprisonment. Resistance to the apartheid system came from various sectors of society; organizations dedicated to peaceful protests, passive resistance, armed insurrection. It came from both black activists and white activists. It came from student movements, trade unions. It came from Churches, Hindus and Muslims. It came from the Black Sash, an organization of white women who opposed apartheid. In 1994, apartheid ended.

In the struggle by Gandhi for India’s independence, Martin Luther King’s black civil rights movement in America, Nelson Mandela’s fight against apartheid in South Africa, it is the ordinary people who exercised extraordinary courage.

The time has come for us Malaysian to find the courage and conviction to make the change we dream of into a reality. Freedom, Equality and Justice will not be given to us as a gift and it will not fall from the sky. The fight for freedom, equality and justice of Malaysians must be by Malaysians for Malaysians.

Seizing the Moment

Anwar has made his sacrifice for Malaysians. It is time for us to make ours. Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. I call on all Malaysians to seize this moment. We have waited for fifty-eight years, we cannot wait for another fifty-eight. The door to freedom and equality is right before us. One final push is all that is needed. One final effort will break open the door. One final rally and we will be there. We have come too far to stop now. Let us march together to freedom, shared prosperity and a better Malaysia.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Monday, 23 February 2015 - 1:20 pm

    Its not about freeing Anwar, freeing Anwar is just a step to do for yourself what Anwar was trying to do for you..Ultimately now, its about doing for yourself what Anwar may not be able to do for you. In doing for yourself, you will free Anwar..

  2. #2 by Justice Ipsofacto on Monday, 23 February 2015 - 2:46 pm

    The law and the legal process must be respected and followed.

    The FC is the final court of appeal. Anwar must go through a review by another panel FC to get the recent decision reversed and thrown out so that he can be free again.

    I am sure, if Pakatan is in the government then without the clowns working behind the scene, the FC judges would be able to exercise true independence and judicial assessments and rule accordingly without fear, prejudice or influence.

  3. #3 by Noble House on Tuesday, 24 February 2015 - 3:38 am

    We need to move beyond revolution and into the next stage of human evolution. A time marked by unparalleled compassion and peaceful co-existence. The shape of which we can not foresee as it must be created together.

  4. #4 by waterfrontcoolie on Wednesday, 25 February 2015 - 4:52 pm

    People who think Anwar is just another Malaysian politician forget that knowing the local scenario where influence has a price and for the weaker character there is an easy way out by just negotiating for the highest possible amount! He has sacrificed enough so has his family; so many neutral apolitical Malaysians will be swayed by rational thinking rather than casting him as power crazy! And we all believe truth will finally prevail!

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