Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy Reformasi Day


Malaysia Today

20 September 1998 was the day Malaysia saw its biggest demonstration in history. That was also the day Anwar Ibrahim was arrested by a SWAT team with faces hidden under balaclavas and armed to the teeth. It was not until a few days later that the world discovered Anwar had been beaten up by no less than Malaysia’s chief of police and left unconscious on the floor of his cell until the following morning -- where an alarmed police officer found him exactly where he had been left the night before, still unconscious.

Anwar spent seven months in jail without bail while he faced trial on various charges of abuse of power and sexual misconduct. The reason they denied him bail was because he was a ‘threat to national security’, an allegation that had nothing to do with the charges he was facing. How Anwar can be charged for one offence and then denied bail for reasons that had no relation to the charge is probably something law students will be arguing about until the end of time. Only in Malaysia can the courts make up the rules as they go along and move the goalposts halfway through the game whenever they feel they are losing the plot.

The abuse of power charge Anwar faced was under Ordinance 22. That is an outdated law that had been repealed and had been replaced by new laws under the Anti-Corruption Act. Ordinances are laws introduced before Merdeka and Acts are laws introduced by Parliament after Merdeka. But somehow someone forgot to sign the papers so officially the law still existed. So they chose to charge Anwar under that law that had been unofficially repealed but officially was still valid since they forgot to sign the papers repealing that law.

Anwar’s lawyers, of course, protested and argued that while the law had not quite been repealed due to an oversight, nevertheless that law can be considered repealed since Parliament had repealed it and it should not have been used against Anwar. The court, however, was of the opinion that it is up to the prosecutor what laws they would like to use against Anwar and since the old Ordinance had somehow been mistakenly ‘retained’, then there is nothing wrong in using that law against Anwar.

In other words, since someone forgot to sign the papers to repeal the law that Parliament had repealed, then there is nothing wrong in still using this law. As long as Anwar is charged before the date the papers are signed then the charge is valid, even if the papers are signed the very next day and that law no longer exists during the course of the trial.

Anwar was found guilty and sentenced on 14 April 1999. In the meantime, he was forced to stay in jail since 20 September 1998, a period of seven months. Anwar was then sentenced to six years jail but the court refused to consider the seven months he had spent in jail without bail. The court decreed that his sentence would commence from 14 April 1999 and not 20 September 1998, as should have been the case.

Normally, your sentence starts from the day you are jailed, or what they would call the remand period. There have been many cases where detainees spend two or three years in jail because they can’t afford to pay the bail and when they are finally sentenced they walk out the day of sentencing because the sentence is shorter than the period of detention or remand. In Anwar’s case, the seven months he was in jail was totally ignored, so his jail sentence was not really six years but six years and seven months.

Since Malaysia does not, at least then, have a parole system, you are allowed a one-third remission on your sentence. This means Anwar would have served his sentence by midnight of 20 September 2002. But they refused to release him on 20 September 2002. Instead, Anwar only saw freedom on 2 September 2004, almost two years longer than what he should have spent in jail.

Yes, it has been a long ten years for Anwar. He has endured more than what rapists, bank robbers, extortionists, kidnappers, pimps, drug pushers, loan sharks, currency forgers, and other hardcore criminals have had to endure. Even murderers have been treated better and at times even allowed bail, even though according to the law murderers are not allowed bail.

Is Anwar about to finally enjoy the fruits of his ‘hard labour’? Has what he has gone through this last decade been worth it? We have only a few days more to see the answer to this question.

Anwar already has 34 Barisan Nasional Members of Parliament ‘in the bag’. The government knows this so they have sent these Members of Parliament to Taiwan for a ‘study tour’. They are supposed to all go study agriculture but they have taken their golf bags with them. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know what they are going to do in Taiwan.

While in Taiwan, the government will work on these Members of Parliament to try to persuade them to remain in Barisan Nasional and to not cross over to the opposition. The government knows that these Members of Parliament have already signed their letters and that these letters are now with Anwar. All Anwar needs to do is to present these letters to His Majesty the Agong to prove to the Agong that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi no longer commands the majority confidence in Parliament. So now they are also planning to send the Agong to Saudi Arabia to perform his Umrah. With the Agong out of the way, Anwar will not be able to present these letters to His Majesty.

Umno says there is no way Anwar can form the government on 16 September 2008, which is Malaysia Day. Never mind, they will all come home on 20 September 2008. If Anwar misses the 16 September 2008 deadline because the Members of Parliament and the Agong have all been sent away, there is still 20 September 2008. On 20 September 2008, everyone, the Agong included, will be home to see the new government being formed.

In fact, 20 September 2008 may be a better day than 16 September 2008. 20 September is Reformasi Day. 20 September is the day, in 1998, when the Reformasi Movement was born. 20 September was the day they arrested Anwar and kept him in jail for six years. 20 September was the day Malaysians decided enough is enough and a change is necessary. 20 September was the day that saw the beginning of the end for Umno and Barisan Nasional. So what more apt day to choose to form the new government than on 20 September 2008, Reformasi Day?

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