Monday, July 30, 2007

Internet censorship spreading: OSCE study

VIENNA (Reuters) - State restrictions on use of the Internet have spread to more than 20 countries that use catch-all and contradictory rules to help keep people off line and stifle feared political opposition, a new report says.

In "Governing the Internet", the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) presented case studies of Web censorship in Kazakhstan and Georgia and referred to similar findings in nations from China to Iran, Sudan and Belarus.

"Recent moves against free speech on the Internet in a number of countries have provided a bitter reminder of the ease with which some regimes, democracies and dictatorships alike, seek to suppress speech that they disapprove of, dislike, or simply fear," the report by the 56-nation OSCE said.

"Speaking out has never been easier than on the Web. Yet at the same time, we are witnessing the spread of Internet censorship," the 212-page report said.

In a new case not covered by the report, a senior Malaysian minister vowed this week to apply law prescribing jail terms for Web writers of comments said to disparage Islam or the king. Full story, Click here

Malaysian police grilled one on-line author over postings the ruling party described as an attack on the country's state religion and a bid to stir racial tension. Full story click here and here

In Kazakhstan, rules on Internet use are so vague and politicized that they "allow for any interpretation ..., easily triggering Soviet-style 'spy mania'" where any dissident individual or organisation could be branded a threat to national well-being and silenced, according to the OSCE report.

It cited a prominent incident in 2005 when Kazakhstan seized all .kz Internet domains and closed one deemed offensive and run by British satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, who had made the acclaimed spoof film "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan".

In a speech to the OSCE parliament on Thursday, Kazakh Information Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbayev insisted Kazakhstan was determined to build democracy and create an "e-government" expanding Internet service and making "our media more free, contemporary and independent".

The OSCE report said Kazakhstan's state monopoly on Internet providers tended to deter use by making prices for all but very slow and limited dial-up service far higher than those for West Europeans even though Kazakh incomes are much lower.

Georgian law contained "contradictory and ill-defined" provisions which might "give leverage for illegitimate limitation" of free expression on the Internet, the report said.


© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

UMNO and POLICE (PDRM) are Colluding, says ALIRAN


What is happening is really disturbing. We get the impression that Umno and the police are colluding to rein in do-gooders who highlight corruption in high places. A case in point is the police report made against Malaysia Today webmaster Raja Petra Kamarudin. The report was made on Monday and the police called up Raja Petra on Wednesday. The police must have gone on overdrive to be super efficient.

Compare this to police reports made by others on issues of grave concern that had not received this kind of attention. Were these reports allowed to drag on because they were directed at personalities belonging to the ruling party? Malaysians would recall the many police reports made against Umno leaders who uttered seditious remarks at the last Umno General Assembly that really threatened the peace of the nation and the harmony among the various communities. What has happened after all these many months?

Anwar, Guan Eng, Ezam and a host of others had lodged reports with the police. What has happened to all those reports? Will they see the light of the day or will they be stored away on some dusty shelf?

Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib had claimed in his report that “the posting of articles on 11 July and subsequent responses contained elements that could cause racial tension”. But Raja Petra had stated in no uncertain terms that he had not posted any articles on 11 July. If that is the case, then the Umno chief must be grossly misinformed or he is concocting something to get at Raja Petra. He has not produced a shred of evidence to substantiate his claim that articles were posted on 11 July to justify his police report. We are reminded of the English proverb that states, “Give a dog a bad name and hang him.” That is what Muhammad Taib is trying to do. Tarnish Raja Petra and let the police charge him, so it seems.

Bekas Perdana Menteri Tun Dr Mahathir berkata laporan polis yang dibuat oleh Ketua Penerangan Umno, Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib terhadap Malaysia Today yang didakwa menghina Islam dan Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong, sebagai cubaan untuk menghalang suara dalam internet. Read full story here

But the Malaysian public is well informed and they know the real reason for Umno’s panic. With the next general election imminent, Umno is running scared. Malaysia Today has continued to expose abuse and corruption in high places involving Barisan Nasional leaders without any let up – and, what’s more, these exposes are supported by accompanying evidence. This is hurting the BN and that is the only reason why they are doing their best to put away Raja Petra.

The Malaysian public cannot be fooled by the flimsy excuses hatched by worried Umno leaders to save their skin. If they are really concerned about national unity and harmony and preserving the peace of the country, then they would be more careful about what they say and how they say it. The way they behave and push their weight around - the things they say, the challenges they throw and the warnings they give - have not convinced the Malaysian public that they are statesmen. They are only politicians apparently doing whatever is necessary to consolidate their power and position.

Aliran calls upon the police to desist from hounding well-meaning Malaysians whose only concern is the welfare of the nation.

A Comedy Of Errors

THE CORRIDORS OF POWER
Raja Petra Kamarudin

Yes, guilty as charged. I have stolen this line from Shakespeare. But I can’t help it. What better way to describe the eight hours I spent under interrogation at the Dangi Wangi Police Station yesterday other than it was a comedy of errors? By the way, before I go on, I have received more than a thousand phone calls, SMSes and e-mails from well-wishers and supporters. I have not found the time to reply to each and everyone yet so I hope you will forgive me for my rudeness. I am certainly touched by the concern and the messages of support posted in Malaysia Today’s blogs. From the fight for more freedom in Malaysia shall continue come hell or high water.

I received a call from the police at 8.00am yesterday that they want to record my statement on the police report lodged by an ex-Selangor Menteri Besar with two Muhamads in his name. I saw the phone call coming and was not only expecting it but was hoping that they would summon me for interrogation so that I can expose this entire episode for the farce that it really is. In short, I pushed their hand with the ‘See you in hell Muhamad son of Muhamad’ article so that they would be forced to make their move on me.

They wanted me in at 10 but I told them I can only make it at 11. I wanted to update the website first in case my visit to Dangi Wangi ends up a two-week stay.

According to the press reports, the police report made against me was with regards to an article I wrote on 11 July 2007 that they regard as insulting the Agong and Islam. By the way, in case you did not know, Malaysia does not have a king so please stop referring to the Agong as King. Agong does not translate to king. Agong means supreme and it merely means he is the Supreme Ruler of the nine rulers, a sort of ‘first amongst equals’ situation.

I brought along two shopping bags of four copies of the Quran in Arabic, English and Bahasa Malaysia, the Salasilah or family tree of the Selangor Sultanate, and an ‘approved’ version of Selangor’s history written by Buyung Adil. I could of course have also included Joginder Singh Jessy’s, DJ Tate’s and Winsted’s versions as well, but I thought the Buyung Adil version, which is in Bahasa Malaysia, would be less strenuous on the more simple-minded.

The police informed me that my interrogation was not about my article of 11 July 2007. In fact, on 11 July 2007, I never wrote any article. I did on 8 July though and again on 13 July, but never on 11 July. According to what the newspapers reported, I was alleged to have insulted the Agong and Islam, so the purpose of the two shopping bags of books was to debate Islam and the Agong with those who were about to interrogate me. But they did not want to talk about any of my articles. They only wanted to talk about some of the comments in the blogs posted by Malaysia Today’s readers.

I told the police I refuse to talk about the comments in the blogs. I did not write these comments so I refuse to talk about what I did not write. I only want to talk about what I wrote and defend myself against charges that I have insulted the Agong and Islam. But no, the police did not want to talk about my articles. They only wanted to talk about the comments in the blogs.

I told the police I still refuse to talk about the comments and if therefore they want to charge me for sedition under the Sedition Act then go ahead. I banged the table with my fist and shouted, “Charge me! Charge me now!” The police said that they do not wish to charge me yet but only to take my statement. I can refuse to reply if I wish or reply that I do not know anything. But they have no choice but to take my statement because a police report had been made against me.

It boggles the mind that they MUST take my statement barely two days after the police report against me was made whereas they do not feel they MUST do anything on the hundreds upon hundreds of other police reports made the last ten years or so since 1998. Take, as one example, the police report made by four Umno delegates to the Kubang Pasu AGM last year alleging that they were each bribed RM200 to not vote for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysia Today published copies of these police reports. One of the Umno delegates who made the police report was subsequently beaten up in his house in front of his family. He made a second police report on the beating and even fingered those who had beaten him up because he knew them personally. Again, nothing was done. So this MUST take your statement once a police report has been made against you is as truthful as I am still a virgin.

When that ex-Selangor Menteri Besar with two Muhamads in his name went to the Dang Wangi Police Station on Monday to lodge his police report, he did not have any details to support the allegation that Malaysia Today had insulted the Agong and Islam. He was told that the evidence to support this allegation must be attached to the police report. They then tried to get onto the internet to access Malaysia Today so that they could look for the evidence. But they did not know how to and could not find Malaysia Today.

They then enlisted the help of a journalist from one of the Chinese newspapers who was there covering the event. Through the good help of this Chinese reporter, they finally found Malaysia Today and went through the comments in the blogs to find the evidence that they needed to support the police report.

Malaysia Today was launched on 13 August 2004 and since then we have about 20,000 or so items with an estimated five million comments in the blogs. Looking for the evidence would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. We must note that at this point of time they had lodged a police report but lacked the evidence. They were now putting the cart before the horse. They now needed the evidence to support the police report.

They finally found about a dozen or so postings amongst five million that looked strong enough to prove that Malaysia Today has insulted the Agong and Islam. One was my own posting that said if you insult any race or religion then I would have no choice but to delete your posting and ban you from further posting comments in Malaysia Today. Another was by Indianputra who was appealing to Malaysia Today’s readers not to fight and argue as some people might take advantage of the squabbling and exploit it to divide the races. What we want is a peaceful country, argued Indianputra, so if we engage in a civil manner then we will be able to unite all the races. And so on and so forth. Basically, this was the evidence they were working on to prove that Malaysia Today insulted the Agong and Islam.

I asked the police whether these postings are insulting the Agong, insulting Islam, and are trying to divide the races, or whether they are actually the reverse. The face of the ASP interrogating me turned red as he tried to explain that he was just doing his job and that he was ordered to take my statement. I replied that the person who made the police report is a stupid person who can’t speak English. So what do you expect from someone like that? He can’t even understand comments that are appealing for national unity and instead interpret it as calling for racial strife.

“Do you know that that orang bodoh ran away with the Sultan’s daughter and then denied it?” I asked the police. They just smiled. “Well, I am going to reveal this to the world,” I continued. “I am going to publish the letter he wrote to the Sultan where he denied he had married the Sultan’s daughter whereas he had in fact already secretly married her in Thailand. You tengoklah. I akan balun si bodoh tu habis-habis.”

The police appeared amused at what I had to say although their only retort was, “Banyak maklumat kita dapat hari ini.”

They then wanted to know the identity of those who post comments in Malaysia Today’s blogs. I told them I do not know who they are but I do know that amongst them are 25 Umno cyber-troopers headed by Azalina and Norza.

“Azalina?” they asked.

“Yes, Azalina lesbian,” I replied.

“Oh, Azalina Othman.” Apparently they know who I meant by Azalina lesbian.

“I did not say Azalina Othman. I said Azalina lesbian. You are supposed to record everything I say the way I say it. That is what a cautioned statement under Section 112 is all about. Saya kata Azalina lesbian. Bukan Azalina Othman. You record what I say and I will sign the statement.”

The second police officer stopped typing and scratched his head with a sheepish grin on his face. “Okaylah, I don’t want you to get into any trouble. Drop the lesbian and change it to Othman.” The second officer continued typing while chuckling. He was certainly enjoying himself.

I pointed out a few IDs that belonged to the Umno cyber-troopers and the second officer recorded them down. “How do you know they are Umno cyber-troopers?” the first officer asked me.

“Because I have received information from inside Umno,” I replied.

“You have people planted in Umno?”

“Of course I do, and I bribe them to feed me information. I just slam RM1,000 onto the table and ask them to tell me everything and they sing like a canary. It is not that hard to buy information.”

The four police officers in the room smiled and shook their heads in disbelief. “Can we record this in your statement?”

“Of course you can. The reason I am telling you this is so that you can record it in my statement. I want it on record that Umno is attacking Malaysia Today with 25 cyber-troopers and they are the ones who are posting racial statements. Sometimes they even masquerade as Chinese and whack the Malays and Islam. Then other cyber-troopers would respond and whack the Chinese. The Umno cyber-troopers are the ones behind this racial and religious bashing in Malaysia Today. Then they make a police report alleging that Malaysia Today insults Islam and stirs racial sentiments.”

All this exchange was of course recorded as anything you say under Section 112 interrogation is recorded and you are made to sign the statement at the end of the interrogation. And you go to jail if you make a false statement.

At the end of the eight-hour interrogation, I asked them whether we are finished and they said yes. “Okay, now I want to make my additional statement,” I informed the police.“Of course, we will ask you before we end whether you want to add anything more to your statement. That is the procedure.”

“Okay, now I will make that statement. Malaysia Today’s domain name is registered in the UK,” I told the police. When you click on the domain name malaysia-today.net you are sent to the server of the registered IP address in that domain name. Our server is in Singapore. But what you see is only the front page. Then you choose which item on the front page you want to read and you are sent to the blog. The blog sits in the US. When you post a comment it goes straight to the blog. For all intents and purposes, Malaysia Today is a foreign website and not a Malaysian website. We therefore do not come under Malaysian laws.”

“Let me put it another way,” I told the police. “Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia and you can get sent to jail for nine years for the crime of sodomy even if you are a Deputy Prime Minister. In England, men can marry men and you will even receive a congratulatory message from the British Prime Minister. So, sodomy is not a crime in the UK and you do not go to jail.”

“In short,” I summed up. “Your Sedition Act is valid only in Malaysia and not outside Malaysia. So you cannot impose Malaysia’s Sedition Act on Malaysia Today which resides outside Malaysia. I can actually tell you to go to hell and that I will not waste eight hours answering all your questions. But I do not want you to think I am sombong so I was prepared to spend eight hours with you answering all your questions as I know you have a job to do and it is not your fault.”

I knew this officer was under tremendous pressure because every half an hour he would receive a phone call from his OCPD as well as the IGP asking about the progress of the interrogation. The top bosses were monitoring the whole situation and my interrogation was not a routine one at all. One senior Chinese officer who sat there the entire duration without opening his mouth revealed his true role when the only time he spoke was to utter the statement that I am trying to topple the IGP. That was what the police really wanted. It was payback time for the revelations of the links between the IGP and the Chinese organised crime syndicate.

Umno, however, had other motives. It was not about Malaysia Today insulting the Agong or Islam. They did not even have any evidence of this until that Chinese reporter helped them get onto the internet and access Malaysia Today’s website. What they were perturbed about is my article in my column No Holds Barred on 8 July 2007 about the powers of the Agong.

If you read Article 150 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia -- which I have reproduced below -- you can see that the Agong has the power to remove the Prime Minister if the Agong perceives the Prime Minister as totally incompetent and a danger to the economic life and well-being of Malaysians. Of course, this has never been done before except in 1969 to address the problem of the May 13 race riots. But this does mean it cannot be done, just that it has never been done or done only once in 1969.

Note the key points in Article 150 such as:
1) If the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied
2) That a grave emergency exists
3) Whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof is threatened
4) He may issue a Proclamation of Emergency making therein a declaration to that effect.
5) A Proclamation of Emergency may be issued before the actual occurrence of the event which threatens the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation
6) Except when both Houses of Parliament are sitting concurrently
7) The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied that certain circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action
8) He may promulgate such ordinances as circumstances appear to him to require.
9) The Houses of Parliament shall be regarded as sitting only if the members of each House are respectively assembled together

Now, Article 150 is very clear in that the Agong can interpret the situation as he sees it and take action that he thinks is befitting the situation. Basically, it is his opinion and only his opinion that rules and he can act based on his opinion.

When this article was first published on 8 July 2007, it sent shockwaves right through the fourth floor and right up to the fifth floor of the Prime Minister’s office in Putrajaya. They suddenly realised that if the Agong perceives the Prime Minister as incompetent and a danger to this country, then the Agong can remove the Prime Minister and appoint anyone he so wishes to replace the Prime Minister. It need not be the Deputy Prime Minister or any of the Umno leaders. In theory, it can even be the Agong’s gardener if the Agong thinks he is better than the Prime Minister and the best man to lead this country.

And that was when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi decided to quietly sneak out of the country with his entire family. They suspected that this article of 8 July 2007 was not a coincidence but was instead a hint that the Agong may act within his powers under the Federal Constitution of Malaysia to sack the Prime Minister and replace him with someone better. The Prime Minister then summoned the IGP and the Director of the Special Branch to Australia to obtain feedback as to whether he is in danger of being ousted.

Earlier, Abdullah had announced the extension of the IGP’s tenure on contract basis beyond 13 September 2007 when he is supposed to retire. Abdullah received a major blow yesterday during the Rulers’ Conference when the Rulers rejected the extension of the IGP’s tenure on grounds that they have not been prior-informed about it. That was the Rulers’ very strong message to Abdullah that they are not happy with the way he is running this country.

Abdullah is worried that Malaysia Today might be playing a role of ‘instigating’ the Rulers to sack him. They then sat down and came out with a plan to turn the Rulers against Malaysia Today by accusing Malaysia Today of insulting the Agong and Islam. They hope that by doing this the Rulers would get angry with Malaysia Today and be very grateful to Abdullah for putting Raja Petra in jail and in that same process protect and defend the image and dignity of the Rulers.

In short, Abdullah wants the Rulers to think that Malaysia Today is their enemy while the Prime Minister is their friend. So, no need to sack Abdullah. Instead, put Raja Petra in jail. And with that Abdullah and his family can continue to live happily ever after as the First Family of Malaysia.

Abdullah is due back on 27 July 2007. According to his office, he may delay his return until the first week of August. Abdullah was hoping that by the time he returns on 27 July 2007, Raja Petra would be safely tucked away behind the high walls of the Sungai Buloh Prison and he can then request an audience with the Agong to inform the Agong how he defended the image and dignity of the Agong by punishing Raja Petra for the crime of insulting the Agong and Islam.

But they sent a fool to undertake the job of assassinating Raja Petra. This ex-Selangor Menteri Besar with two Muhamads in his name botched the mission. Abdullah now has to rethink his strategy as well as the date of his return home. Would he still be walking in the corridors of power or would he have to stay in Australia and apply for PR status? Yes, we live in interesting times. A certain Datuk from Abdullah’s camp phoned me last night and I told this Datuk to inform his boss that Raja Petra is bent on destroying Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and ensure that all that remains of him is a pile of dust. An Uncle to the Agong phoned me two days ago and said “Bodoh betul Mat Taib!”

Round One: Raja Petra. But will I also win Round Two? I don’t know yet. We will have to wait and see. Time will of course tell. But what I do know, it is a fight to the death and I really do not care whether that will be me.

Article 150 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia
(1) If the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof is threatened, he may issue a Proclamation of Emergency making therein a declaration to that effect.

(2) A Proclamation of Emergency under Clause (1) may be issued before the actual occurrence of the event which threatens the security, or the economic life, or public order in the Federation or any part thereof if the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied that there is imminent danger of the occurrence of such event.

(2A) The power conferred on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong by this Article shall include the power to issue different Proclamations on different grounds or in different circumstances, whether or not there is a Proclamation or Proclamations already issued by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong under Clause (1) and such Proclamation or Proclamations are in operation.

(2B) If at any time while a Proclamation of Emergency is in operation, except when both Houses of Parliament are sitting concurrently, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is satisfied that certain circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, he may promulgate such ordinances as circumstances appear to him to require.

(2C) An ordinance promulgated under Clause (2B) shall have the same force and effect as an Act of Parliament, and shall continue in full force and effect as if it is an Act of Parliament until it is revoked or annulled under Clause (3) or until it lapses under Clause (7); and the power of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to promulgate ordinances under Clause (2B) may be exercised in relation to any matter with respect to which Parliament has power to make laws regardless of the legislative or other procedures required to be followed, or the proportion of the total votes required to be had, in either House of Parliament.

(3) A Proclamation of Emergency and any ordinance promulgated under Clause (2B) shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament and, if not sooner revoked, shall cease to have effect if resolutions are passed by both Houses annulling such Proclamation or ordinance, but without prejudice to anything previously done by virtue thereof or to the power of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to issue a new Proclamation under Clause (1) or promulgate any ordinance under Clause (2B).

(4) While a Proclamation of Emergency is in force the executive authority of the Federation shall, notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, extent to any matter within the legislative authority of a State and to the giving of directions to the Government of a State or to any officer or authority thereof.

(5) Subject to Clause (6A), while a Proclamation of Emergency is in force, Parliament may, not-withstanding anything in this Constitution make laws with respect to any matter, if it appears to Parliament that the law is required by reason of the emergency; and Article 79 shall not apply to a Bill for such a law or an amendment to such a Bill, nor shall any provision of this Constitution or of any written law which requires any consent or concurrence to the passing of a law or any consultation with respect thereto, or which restricts the coming into force of a law after it is passed or the presentation of a Bill to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for his assent.

(6) Subject to Clause (6A), no provision of any ordinance promulgated under this Article, and no provision of any Act of Parliament which is passed while a Proclamation of Emergency is in force and which declares that the law appears to Parliament to be required by reason of the emergency, shall be invalid on the ground of inconsistency with any provision of this Constitution.

(6A) Clause (5) shall not extend the powers of Parliament with respect to any matter of Islamic law or the custom of the Malays, or with respect to any matter of native law or custom in the State of Sabah or Sarawak; nor shall Clause (6) validate any provision inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution relating to any such matter or relating to religion, citizenship, or language.

(7) At the expiration of a period of six months beginning with the date on which a Proclamation of Emergency ceases to be in force, any ordinance promulgated in pursuance of the Proclamation and, to the extent that it could not have been validly made but for this Article any law made while the Proclamation was in force, shall cease to have effect, except as to things done or omitted to be done before the expiration of that period.

(8) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution:
(a) the satisfaction of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong mentioned in Clause (1) and Clause (2B) shall be final and conclusive and shall not be challenged or called in question in any court on any ground; and
(b) no court shall have jurisdiction to entertain or determine any application, question or proceeding, in whatever form, on any ground, regarding the validity of- (i) a Proclamation under Clauses (1) or of a declaration made in such Proclamation to the effect stated in Clause (1);
(ii) the continued operation of such Proclamation;
(iii) any ordinance promulgated under Clause (2B); or
(iv) the continuation in force of any such ordinance.

(9) For the purpose of this Article the Houses of Parliament shall be regarded as sitting only if the members of each House are respectively assembled together and carrying out the business of the House.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

No Joy for Malaysia's Non-Muslims: The Lina Joy Verdict and its Implications

By Joseph Chinyong Liow

On Wednesday, 30 May, the Malaysian Federal Court finally made a much-awaited decision regarding the apostasy case surrounding Lina Joy. In a landmark pronouncement which will likely reverberate across the Malaysian social-political landscape for a long time, the Federal Court ruled by a margin of 2-to-1 in favour of dismissing Lina Joy's appeal against an earlier High Court decision that she could not have the word "Islam" removed from her identity card without endorsement from the Shari'a Court, which according to Article 121 1(A) of the Malaysian Constitution governs Muslim family and personal law in Malaysia.

Lina Joy and her team of Lawyers

Born Azalina Jailani to Muslim parents on 8 January 1964, Lina Joy converted to Christianity and was baptised at the age of 26. She applied to the National Registration Department (NRD) to change her name on 10 October 1999. Her application was successful, and she was required to apply for a new identity card with her new name as a consequence. In the following application, however, her attempt to have the word "Islam" omitted from her new identity card was rejected by the NRD on grounds that she could not change her religion unless she possessed requisite documentation from the Shari'a Court endorsing her conversion (effective 1 October 1999, it became compulsory for Malaysian Muslims to have their religion "Islam" indicated on their identity cards), which she didn't have. In an attempt to have "Islam" removed from her new identity card, Lina Joy proceeded to file a suite against the Director of the NRD, the Government, and the Federal Territories Religious Council in 2001. Her suite was thrown out by both the High Court and Court of Appeal. The case was ultimately brought to the Federal Court in April 2006.

Lina Joy's Baptism Certificate

According to the Federal Court, the case pertained only to the matter of whether the NRD was right to deny Lina's application to omit the word "Islam" on her identity card without a Shari'a Court order. The undercurrents, however, flowed much deeper. At the heart of the matter was the question of who had the right and authority to define the religious status of Malaysian citizens.

After a lengthy period of deliberation during which emotions ran high among both Muslim and non-Muslim communities, the Federal Court ruled on 30 May 2007 that only an Islamic Shari'a tribunal could certify her renunciation of Islam and by virtue of that, the legitimacy of her conversion. In the eyes of the Malaysian judicial system then, Lina Joy remains a Muslim despite her public renunciation of the faith (by virtue of her baptism into the Christian religion) many years ago. The Federal Court's ruling on the high-profile Lina Joy case has implications far beyond the matter of what can or cannot be printed in a Malaysian's identity card.

First, even though the Federal Court avoided framing the issue as a constitutional one, the case has already taken on constitutional proportions in popular mindsets and discourse, and this ruling is likely to set a legal precedent on debates over religious freedom and the extent to which shari'a law enjoys precedence over civil law on the matter of religious conversion.

Second, by virtue of its high profile, the Lina Joy case further sharpened the socio-religious divide in Malaysia. Prior to this, a number of controversial High Court rulings were already exerting stress upon Malaysia's multi-cultural fabric. One such case in 2004 pertained to the rights of a Hindu mother to bring up her two sons, who purportedly converted to Islam along with her estranged husband, in the Hindu faith after she obtained custody over them. The High Court, while granting her custody of the children, also ruled that they were to remain Muslims against the mother's wishes. With this ruling, the perception set in among non-Muslims that the constitutional role of the civil High Court to protect minority rights was fast eroding.

In defence of minority rights, non-Muslim groups formed the Article 11 Coalition in May 2004 to protect the constitutional right of freedom of religion. In an obvious retaliatory measure, Muslim civil society groups mobilised and formed PEMBELA (Defenders of Islam) to stem the tide of apostasy among Muslims and defend the Islamic faith, the official religion of Malaysia, from legal challenges posed by "apostate Muslims" and non-Muslims. Since its formation, PEMBELA has grown into a mammoth coalition consisting of 70 Islamic NGOs of various shapes and sizes, including professional Malay-Muslim organisations as well.

Finally, notwithstanding Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's protests to the contrary, the Lina Joy ruling threatens to polarise Malaysian society and will undoubtedly heighten fears of marginalisation among Malaysia's non-Muslims. The ruling effectively highlights the considerable obstacles that confront Malaysian Muslims who intend to leave Islam. The decision also indicates that those who persist in their conversion will likely have no recourse to civil law on matters pertaining to child custody, divorce, and inheritance since it is unlikely that their conversion will be recognised and endorsed by the Shari'a Court in the first place.

WATCHPOINT: Even though the ''anti-apostasy'' segments of the Malay-Muslim ground have ''won'' the Lina Joy case, it remains to be seen if any attempt by non-Muslims to further articulate their grievances in the wake of the ruling would spark a caustic response which in turn will have adverse consequences for Malaysia's already-fragile social fabric.

Joseph Chinyong Liow
Associate Professor and Head of Research (IDSS)The Rajaratnam School of International Studies
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


Police Offer Reward to Stop Female Circumcision

LONDON (Antara): London's Metropolitan Police announced on Wednesday that they were offering a 20,000-pound (US$40,500) reward for information that brought anyone carrying out female circumcision in London to justice.


The police said they believed the summer period to be the "most prevalent time" for the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) to be carried out, because the extended holiday from school provided time for young girls to recover.

”We are being told that the illegal practice of FGM is occurring to children in London," Detective Chief Superintendent Alistair Jeffrey, head of the Metropolitan Police's Child Abuse Investigation Command, said in a statement.

"We take this extremely seriously and that is why we are taking this unusual step of offering a reward, to encourage people not only to help us to prevent this happening, but also where it has occurred, bring those responsible to account."

The reward is half-financed by the police, with the remaining 10,000 pounds being supplied by the Waris Dirie Foundation, named after the fashion supermodel and activist who herself survived FGM as a child in Somalia.

It will apply to all information provided over the next year that leads to the arrest and prosecution of individuals for carrying out female circumcision in London.

Female circumcision varies in its scope, ranging from injury to the clitoris to the removal of the labia and clitoris, which is subsequently sewn up leaving only a tiny opening.

It is done without the child's consent, and according to police, only in rare occasions does it involve the use of an anesthetic or take place in a clinical environment.

Police said anyone administering FGM, or found to be arranging for it to be administered, could face up to 14 years in prison.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Culmination of The Crisis of Religious Freedom in Malaysia


By Luthfi Assyaukanie, Jakarta Post

The last minute cancellation of an international inter-faith conference in mid-May is the culmination of the crisis of religious freedom in Malaysia, and itself is a manifestation of the paradox of the oft-campaigned "Islam Hadhari".

Over the past two years, the Malaysian government (under Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi) has promoted the concept of civilized Islam, or Islam Hadhari, emphasizing that Malaysia is a moderate Muslim country which should become a role model for other Muslim countries in promoting harmony, progress and economic development.

The cancellation of the conference was criticized by several Malaysian Muslim leaders. Former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim deemed it "a mockery of the government's claims of being a moderate Muslim administration" (Malaysia Today, 16/5). The conference was aimed at minimizing the tension between Islam and religious minority groups in Malaysia. Its cancellation, therefore, only fuels religious disharmony in the country.

The relationship between Islam and religious minority groups in Malaysia has worsened over the last five years, despite the government's ardent campaign of Islam Hadhari.

Two of the 10 principles of Islam Hadhari are:
  • "Freedom and independence for the people" and,
  • "Protection of the rights of minority groups".
Yet, the problem the Malaysian government currently faces is the issue of freedom and religious rights. In January, Islamic officials arrested a Muslim woman and sent her to a rehabilitation clinic for marrying a non-Muslim. She was forced to divorce her Hindu husband and ordered to keep her baby away from the father, to avoid the child being converted to Hinduism.

In March, R. Subashini, a Hindu woman whose husband converted to Islam, failed to get a divorce from the Civil Court and was forced to proceed to the Sharia Court.

According to Malaysia's constitution, the Sharia Court was created to manage Muslims' affairs, while the Civil or Federal Court deals with non-Muslims' affairs. By being forced to go through the Sharia Court, Subashini ultimately lost custody rights of her children.

In April, Islamic authorities raided the house of a Hindu man and his Muslim wife. The authorities forced them to separate and they were charged with an illegal marriage. The authorities took their 3-year-old daughter to prevent her from being converted to Hinduism.

Other minority groups, particularly Christians, have also suffered from religious restrictions. The most widely-covered example is the case of Lina Joy, a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. She was charged with apostasy and according to Islamic law, an apostate is condemned to death.

These are just some examples of the mounting problem of religious freedom in Malaysia and the contradiction that is Islam Hadhari -- which Badawi is trying to "export" to other Muslim countries.

Within Malaysia itself, it appears the concept has not yet taken root, despite Badawi's claim it has been accepted as the ideal model by which all Muslims in the country should strive to follow. The problem is, a clear definition is lacking as well as the government's commitment to the concept.

For secular and progressive Muslims, Islam Hadhari is an oxymoron, since many Muslims in Malaysia still believe in the superiority of Islam over other religions. It is impossible to create a tolerant environment if one group feels more superior to others.

In any case, Badawi's Islam Hadhari seems to go against the spirit of the classical model of Islamic civilization, where dialogue and mutual respect are distinct characteristics.

Expressing his disappointment over the cancellation of the inter-faith conference, Anwar Ibrahim said: "A dialogue will enable us to quell the tensions that arise from our differences. Islam has always enjoined Muslims to engage in dialogue with people of other religions, from the Abbasids of Baghdad to the Andalucians of Cordoba," (Malaysia Today, 16/5).

For progressive Muslims, the best model of civilized Islam was during the golden era of classical Islam -- especially in Baghdad and Cordoba -- where religious harmony and tolerance existed.

Here comes the irony: For many Muslims in Malaysia, the role model of civilized Islam is not Baghdad or Cordoba, but "the pious first generation" or, what is known as "al-salaf al-salih", from which the ideology of Salafism takes its roots.

The later generation of Muslims, including those who lived in Baghdad and Cordoba during the golden era, are thought to have somewhat deviated from Islam. It is common knowledge that many Muslims are against philosophy and speculative thinking, one of the most significant symbols of the Islamic golden era.

Accordingly, the same spirit is demonstrated by the staunchest political opposition in Malaysia; the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). PAS leaders often launch their criticism to Badawi's concept of Islam Hadhari on the grounds it emphasizes too heavily the worldly aspects of life and neglects spiritual aspects exemplified by the early days of Islam.

Like many Salafis, PAS leaders prefer the Prophet's era as a model of civilized Islam rather than the later one represented by the Abbasids of Baghdad or the Ummayads of Cordoba.

A clear definition of Islam Hadhari is needed here in order to decide which position the Malaysian government takes. It seems the absence of conceptual ground and a lack of commitment to its implementation have created many contradictions in Badawi's Islam Hadhari.

On one hand, Malaysia's leaders wish to make their country modern, progressive and tolerant -- but on the other hand, they have failed to secure civil liberty and religious rights for their citizens.

The writer is a research fellow at the Freedom Institute, Jakarta.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"ISLAM HADHARI": A Still-Born Child?

By Clive S Kessler, Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, The University of New South Wales

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's moment of truth is approaching. After succeeding Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 2003 he won a huge personal mandate in the 2004 elections. Facing new national elections in the next year or so, he would be happily situated if his stewardship of the nation gave him much of which to boast. But it does not. He has occupied the crease but has few runs on the board.

With real achievements to his credit, the embittered sniping attacks of his doughty predecessor might seem merely petty. But the uncertainty of Badawi's direction and record lends them plausibility. Some see Badawi's failure to assert himself in purely personal terms: either of temperament, that he is both decent and diffident, or circumstance, referring to the cruel impact of his wife's death.

But the truth is probably deeper, situational and structural rather than personal. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) no longer dominates Mexico and the Kuomintang governs Taiwan no more but the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), in concert with its associated parties, continues to rule Malaysia, as it always has since independence. The Malaysian state apparatus is a glove that, closely fashioned to purpose over half a century, fits only one hand, the UMNO's - and its several ever prodding and grasping fingers point and push in contrary ways. A reformer of the UMNO and its grip upon national life would be stymied. No reform is possible without taking on the insistent interests to which the UMNO must not simply be responsive but from which it is built. Prime Minister Badawi may want to be a reformer, but he is no Gorbachev. He will not dismantle the power structures upon which the UMNO's and his own dominance rest. "Nice guys finish last" is an old piece of baseball wisdom; conversely, the toughness that Dr Mahathir showed as leader over two decades can now be seen and better appreciated as not simply personal and temperamental but perhaps structurally essential.

In this context Prime Minister Badawi has struggled to define his own agenda and direction. Asked about Dr Mahathir's famous Vision 2020 goals, he neither rejects nor endorses them but instead asks about 2057, the centenary of national independence. A similar strategy of seeking both to appropriate and contain - and in that way place his predecessor in a more distanced and diminishing perspective - has marked Badawi's stance towards Dr Mahathir's handling of the politics of Islam, which has provided the central dynamic of politics within the ascendant Malay-Muslim arena. For half a century this has taken the form of an incessant and unedifying "Islamist policy auction" between UMNO and the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), in which, over the long term, UMNO is forever outbid and in time compelled to match PAS's ever escalating demands, or try to do so. Dr Mahathir tried to break that neo-traditional clericalist Islamist stranglehold by seeking to promote a modernist approach that saw the Islamic faith as belonging to all the faithful, not just the conventionally trained experts; he sought to engage the power-seeking clericalists and scripturalist absolutists in dialogic cooperation with the wider community of the faithful, especially the modern, educated laity of good and sincere faith.

Dr Mahathir was never able to project himself as a successful spokesman for the kind of "modernist Islam" and "Islamic modernity" that he sought to promote: because he was always a selective, not a thoroughgoing or consistent, modernist. His Vision 2020 embraced technological and economic modernisation but was decidedly ambivalent and unenthusiastic about, even unsympathetic towards, some of the key sociocultural dimensions of modernity such as human rights, individual freedom, and "lifestyle" pluralism; while he never had the religious standing or credentials to make him a convincing proponent of the kind modern, essentially democratically anticlericalist, Islam that he sought to encourage. As an aspiring Islamic modernist - an advocate of a modern Islamic religious culture and of a wholehearted embrace of modernity by Muslims on Islamic terms - he was flying on two weak wings; he had strength and sinew on neither side, not that of Islam nor that of modern culture. In the end his "counter-Islamisation" intended to contest the traditionalist-clericalist agenda proved counterproductive.

Prime Minister Badawi's response here has been strategically similar to that on the Vision 2020 national development goals. Far better credentialed in Islamic terms than Dr Mahathir, he has sought to declare a new approach called "Islam Hadhari" which he says has its roots in Dr Mahathir's religious policies yet at the same time subsumes and also exceeds them. Yet the notion of Islam Hadhari is woefully unexplained and unelaborated; it remains discursively underdeveloped and intellectually impoverished despite the great official investment in seminars, prime ministerial lectures worldwide, and ensuing books on the subject.

How is the term "hadhari" to be understood? In contradistinction, ironically, to its opposite, "badawi" - meaning, in Arabic, "bedouin", or tribal, ungoverned, born politically of untamed force. In his time former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim popularised the notion of "masyarakat madani" or civil society, where madani connoted settled places of law and lawfulness, restraint and governance, and hence the urban and urbane civility to which they gave rise. Similarly, the term hadhari points - in contrast to the wild regions of tribal social forms and ungoverned political force - to the more advanced places of human settlement, with their social complexity and complex sociability, places of civility and civilisation, of human refinement and improvement.

Yet Prime Minister Badawi's ungrounded assurance is simply that Islam Hadhari means a "civilisational Islam" that seeks to engage with and encourage progress. Beyond this vague assertion what more might the term imply? That, more than just a religion, Islam is also a civilisation whose evolution has to be understood in broad human scope, as well as the specifically religious terms of which the old religious elites are expert custodians. That the history of Islamic peoples, societies and cultures has been pervasively shaped by the Islamic faith; and also that the development of the Islamic religion - including the doctrinal faith and law and piety of living Muslims over the centuries - has been shaped by the worldly career of the Islamic cultures and civilisation that have been its vehicle. That the faith that was vouchsafed to the Prophet Muhammad by Allah is, for all Muslims of good faith, divine; but that everything that was subsequently made of that revelation by human beings - the faith's career in the world - is a "human construct", not itself divine or sacred, and that, wholly made by humans, it may and forever needs to be remade by humans, as times change and human capacities evolve. That Islam remains "a work in progress" - not in the sense that a known and pre-existing, even foreordained, agenda remains to be completed under backward-looking clerical supervision but because next week's agenda will only be identified and discerned between now and then, shaped within informed human understanding. Such an "unpacking" of the term Islam Hadhari might provide the basis for, and so both unleash and give legitimacy to, a genuine modernist Islamic sensibility and politics. But this has not been attempted, not even this possibility has been officially glimpsed, in Malaysia.

Instead of original creative thought in authentic, historically informed Islamic terms, all that is offered substantively is "ten key values" of the utmost blandness, generality and unexceptional conventionality. Ten years ago people were obsessed with defining "Asian Values", now people want to specify "Australian values", and in Islam Hadhari we see the latest phase of an intellectually banal preoccupation with "Islamic values". All this talk about "values" is the expression of a crippled, even defunct, sociology that is intellectually vacuous; it is circular, since it explains social reality in terms of supposedly determining values that are simply "shorthand" summaries of the realities that they are invoked to explain. It is also politically impotent. As current Malaysian experience shows, this approach cannot generate a new Islamic sensibility, an effective human agenda, an authentic and plausible politics.

Islam Hadhari remains a failed challenge and a lost opportunity. Yet it is only in such a genuinely civilisational understanding of Islam and the full implications of what Islam Hadhari might imply that the political impetus might be found to counter the ambitions of the encircling authoritarian Islamists. Can Prime Minister Badawi and the UMNO generally yet grasp this essential key to their own survival? Perhaps it is not too late.

WATCHPOINT: As national elections approach, keep a close eye on how, and how assertively, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi positions himself in relation to Malay-Muslim issues and interests, especially pro-Malay affirmative action, modernist understandings of Islam, and towards conciliation and accommodation of non-Muslim interfaith concerns.

MALAYSIA PARLIAMENTARIAN: Politics of Desperation


Bodoh. Bodoh. Bodoh. Bangang. Bengap. Bahlul. Bengap. Biol. Bebal. Binatang. Berok. Baghal. Baboon. Bocor. Booooooo! Bodoh. Bodoh. Bodoh.

These are some of the recurring B-words that have become the common nouns, adjectives, and adverb lacing our parliamentary debates. Like the chorus of clanking machines in W.S. Rendra's play "Perjuangan Suku Naga"

It's like Bronx gangsta rappers trying to rhyme the vulgar "B____" and "N_____" words to sell their albums and their degenerative ideology.

Don't we have any shame being representatives of the people who are supposed to not waste time spewing vulgarities and linguistic diarrhea in a house that is supposed to urgently and efficiently solve the problems of the poor, needy, the marginalized, and the dispossessed?

How much time gets wasted in parliamentary debates that thrive on cajouling and the hurling of abuses? Why do we still have rude, vulgar, and diplomatically incompetent "elected representatives" still sitting in those debates, representing the rakyat?

Is this the picture of progressive thinking we have developed as a political culture – 50 years after Merdeka?

Shame. Shame. Shame!

Politics of desperation

We teach children in schools, universities, and educational institutions how to debate respectfully and rationally but in the Parliament that is supposed to be a congress and congregation of highly intelligent and politically productive adults, we see the culture of George Orwell's animal farm reigning.

We hear adults screaming at each other, interrupting each other violently, rational voices drowned in the cacophony of political thuggery. Perception and reality is now one. The culture of Ijok and of the parliament is now all the same. The line between perception and reality is destroyed. What are we adults teaching our youth and the children of our next generation? Is this the coming of age of our politics of desperation in which anger rules as a result of the total eclipse of reason?

We wrongly call brutish politicians "Yang Berhormat". They should be called "Yang Tidak Patut di Hormati".

We cannot immediately change the culture of unreasoned and brutish parliamentary debates. We paid the price for voting those species of parliamentarians into power. This is the disease that this nation has contracted since feudal times; from the brutishness of those who ruled since the times of Srivijaya and Majapahit to the modern times of Putrajaya and Cyberjaya.

It will probably take a hundred years for this culture of intelligence amongst parliamentarians to evolve. It seems that to teach these people the art of listening while others are talking seem impossible.

Why are these rude parliamentarians called "Yang Berhormat" when they do not even have the necessary intelligence to carry out reasoned and data-driven arguments and when they have not earned the respect of the people?

We must evolve culturally.

Shouting

Our culture of parliamentary debate has the great potential to evolve from a 'circus' and a Balinese cock-fighting and keris-wielding arena to a problem-solving forum, if and when we begin to elect more intelligent, rational, and meaningfully articulate politicians to represent our constituencies.

Our society is becoming more intelligent and our imitation of models of development has become more sophisticated, but some of our parliamentarians need to learn how to speak in public and how to talk sense based on a data-driven style of argumentation.

Must we continue to live with news reports concerning parliamentary debates that have representatives call each other "bodoh", "berok", "baboon", "binatang" and other less than human designation, instead of calling upon facts and scientific reasoning to back up national issues that need to be resolved?

Must we tolerate a culture of shouting and yelling and cajoling in sessions that are supposed to be used to deliberate and mediate our most urgent and serious issues involving the social, economic, and political fate of millions of citizens who voted for those into power?

Must we let the culture permeate into our universities, schools, social and cultural institutions, and homes in which this brand of feudalism and ignorance and brute force rule in a half-baked democracy?

Why have parliamentarians who present well-researched issues in the most civil manner been shouted at and interrupted perpetually by those who cannot mount anything substantial other than foul language and a chorus of gangsterish rowdiness?

Why are we still seeing this culture at the time when our parliamentarians are becoming more and more educated either locally or abroad?

What kind of parliamentarians gets voted into power and do those with brutish public speaking skills really represent their constituencies? Or are they now becoming an embarrassment to their electorate and an insult to its intelligence?

I think this name-calling sessions that waste public money and glorify brute and arrogant ways of presenting opinion need to be ended.

But how? What must we do? Where do we begin?

Ponder these questions.

Be a smarter Voter

Rude parliamentarians with substandard intelligence need not be respected. They need to be voted out in the next election, so that the "general will" of the people can proceed with maturity, leaving these mentally decaying parliamentarians behind.

Rude supporters of rude parliamentarians need not be respected en masse either. They will merely continue the intellectual destruction we the Malaysian people are trying to create as culture and as a legacy for our children who are becoming more and more intelligent and idealistic than the generation of rotting parliamentarians who get voted through unethical means.

How might we recognise a Cicero, a Sheikh Kadir Jelani, a Gandhi, a Patrick Henry, a Sun Yat Sen, a Ho Chi Minh, a Che Guevara, a Sukarno, a Vaclav Havel, a John F Kennedy amongst us - leaders who can articulate sense with the power of reason and social imagination?

Here are some questions for us:

  • Do our parliamentarians read philosophy?

  • Can they reason scientifically?

  • Can they think holistically?

  • Can they understand the complexities of arguments?

  • Can they gracefully link one idea to another and understand the deeper meaning of the themes?

  • Can they argue beyond the prison-house of "race and ethnicity" and bring arguments to a different and more sophisticated level?

  • Can they analyse past, present, and future systems of oppression?

  • Can they recognise ethics in decision-making and move beyond partisan politics?

  • Can they articulate what a utopia of a truly multicultural and ethical nation is, based on the power of scientific rationality, transcultural ethical system, and social justice that evolve out of the respect for the human intellect and the freedom to think without being punished for speaking up?

  • Do they read much at all to develop the power of their intellect that will be manifested through their powerful oratory skills?

  • Do they know how to mediate instead of merely aggravate?

  • A hundred years is not too long for us to have our parliament evolve into a respectable and 'world-class' institution. We must begin to look at what concepts and skills we need in order to educate the younger generation with. We also need to explore what politics mean and what species of politicians we must create.

    The first step

    The first step is to recognise the symptoms of a corrupt political system – how much is spent to put a leader into power.

    The higher the office, the more the money is needed, seem to be the political wisdom of the day. Therefore, we now see the total enculturalisation of corruption – from the promotion system in our universities to the presenting of politically-charged 'ang pau' and 'duit hari raya' to children.

    The postmodern system dictates that billions of ringgit is needed to prepare for the next general election. The network of political-economic control is getting more sophisticated and the system of manipulation of human consciousness is getting more glitzy and savvy.

    The wealth of our resource-rich nation is used to maintain political hegemony. The ideological state apparatus is used to shut up citizens who speak up against various forms of injustices.

    Political hegemony translates into the control of the educational institutions, so that we may reproduce the brand of arrogance and ignorance desired.

    Our public universities are being used to shut people up more stylistically and sophisticatedly, using better language of mental domination, using more totalitarian system of educating, utilising authoritarian methods of teaching.

    What the must we do? You and I must decide fast. Our elected representatives have even lost the ability to speak politely in public.

    But essentially – we are all at fault.

    As the Indonesian poet Sutardji Calzoum Bachri would say: "Kalian... pun". (You... as well)