A new Malaysian youth coalition has called for a mass demonstration on March 7 and 8 in protest at the jailing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The coalition is also demanding the immediate resignation of the prime minister, Najib Razak, and reform of the judicial system “to restore its impartiality and independence”. The youth movement condemned the conviction and jailing of Anwar as a “political conspiracy”, for which they say Najib is responsible.
On February 10, the federal court upheld a ruling by the Court of Appeal last year, which found Anwar guilty of sodomising his former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008, and sentenced the former deputy prime minister to five years in prison.
Anwar (pictured left) says the case against him was fabricated by his political enemies and the verdict has been strongly criticised both locally and internationally.
The new loose coalition, which is called Kita Lawan (“We will fight”), was formed today (Sunday) in Kuala Lumpur when about 80 young people from different sections of society met to discuss the way forward.
The meeting followed a demonstration in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, during which hundreds of young people marched through the city, calling for Anwar’s release, an independent judiciary, and an end to the 57-year rule of UMNO (the United Malays National Organisation).
Among those gathered today were student leaders, NGO representatives, youth members of the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) opposition coalition, individual activists, and young professionals.
In their statement issued at the end of the meeting, the coalition members urged all Malaysians to take part in a protest that is scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur on March 7 and 8. March 8 is the anniversary of the 2008 general election in which the three opposition parties, working together, denied the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament.
Kita Lawan described the jailing of Anwar as an act of political conspiracy. “This demonstrates clearly that UMNO/Barisan Nasional has once again tampered with the judicial system of Malaysia for its own political expediency and has shattered the remaining confidence Malaysians had in that system.
“We demand the total reform of the judicial system to guarantee the independence, integrity, and sovereignty of the judiciary.”
The youth coalition members said they were committed to spreading their message and widening their movement. They urged all the MPs from Pakatan Rakyat to show their support for the youth movement and participate in the March protest. “You have the mandate of the people and now the people are angry about this verdict,” the statement said.
The coalition members have formed different groups representing students, young professionals, other workers, community communicators, and activists, so that each sector can identify and tackle the challenges they each face in mobilising support for the new movement and for the March protest in particular.
The state assemblyman for Semambu in Pahang, Lee Chean Chung, said the model of today’s meeting would be duplicated in other Malaysian states and the various groupings could then form a strong national alliance.
Briefings about Anwar
Today’s meeting was attended by Anwar’s second daughter, Nurul Nuha (pictured above with her three-year old son, Sulaiman). She told the meeting about actions being taken in the “March to Freedom” campaign, such as the “send a postcard to Anwar” drive to show her father that he is not alone.
Nurul Nuha had difficulty getting her message across as her son clung to her the whole time she was speaking. She apologised, but the audience was clearly sensitive to the pressure she and other members of her family are under.
Nurul Nuha said before the meeting that her father was fasting every Monday and Thursday. He was feeling very strong and was in good spirits, she said.
Anwar’s lawyer, Latheefa Koya, also briefed the meeting about Anwar’s condition. He was not being given any special treatment, she said, so was dealing with the usual ordeals of prison life.
Latheefa went through some of the most disturbing aspects of the case, referring in particular to the meeting between Saiful and Najib, who was then deputy prime minister, two days before the date that Saiful alleges he was sodomised by Anwar. The main prosecutor in the case against Anwar, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, was also at that meeting, Latheefa pointed out. Before making his allegation to police, Saidul also met another of Anwar’s foes, Ezam Mohd Noor, she added.
Latheefa emphasised that the prosecution relied solely on submissions about DNA, which Anwar’s legal team insists are highly suspect.
She says there are numerous reasons why Shafee was not an impartial prosecutor in the case. “He’s also an UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) lawyer; he defends cases in which Anwar is suing for defamation.”
Latheefa said a lot of the “facts” relied on by the federal court judges were matters of dispute. “We are saying that the burden of proof has not been shifted yet because the issue of credibility is not sorted out. There are a lot of questions that have not been answered in this case. Saiful cannot be believed.”
She points to the conflicting stories Saiful gave to medical professionals; the fact that he said he was in pain, but there were no penetration marks; his stories about K-Y gel falling on a carpet, which was never produced in court; and tales of eating curry puffs and drinking tea after the alleged sodomy, which the defence says are a total fabrication. No K-Y gel was ever tested in the lab, Latheefa says.
Calls for action
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR or People’s Justice Party) youth leader Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (pictured left) told today’s meeting that Anwar was a political prisoner; “a prisoner of conscience”. He said young people from all sectors of society, and not just political parties, had to take the lead in fighting the injustice and bringing about change, and they had to keep up the momentum.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said, “but if we can keep up the momentum, nothing is impossible.
“This is not about politics; this is a people’s movement and it’s about building a united front. Regardless of occupation, background, or gender, we need to join together.”
Lee Chean Chung spoke about the Reformasi (Reform or Reformation) movement in 1998, and the political changes it sparked. “This time around, the youth will come forward again, and fight for the betterment of the country.”
He said the opposition had made great gains in 2008 and in 2013, when it also denied the government a two-thirds majority, but political movement was not enough. Movement needed to come from every perspective; from every sector of society.
“We will keep fighting until Anwar is free,” he added. People had been very active on social media since Anwar’s conviction, but it was important to take action.
The current struggle, Lee said, was wider than the campaign for Anwar’s release; it was about fighting for a more democratic nation. “Not everyone is coming here today simply because of Anwar, but his case is symbolic of the injustice and tyranny of this regime. Putting Anwar in jail is a humiliation to our democratic system.”
Asked whether there might be a government and police clampdown on young people as they become more militant, Lee said: “We do no harm to the public. I see this as a non-violent movement. The country needs people like us to take action.”
Asked whether the opposition could be cohesive with Anwar in prison, he said politicians would stand together as long as people were united, “as long as there is people power and as long as we are aware of what is happening”.
The director of the non-profit National Oversight and Whistleblowers (NOW) organisation, Akmal Nasir (left), praised the cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar, who was detained for criticising the court judgement and the young people who organised yesterday’s rally and march through Kuala Lumpur. They were prepared to take risks, he said.
A cartoon posted by Zunar on Twitter showed Najib as the judge in Anwar’s case. “Those in the black robes were proud when passing sentence,” Zunar tweeted. “The rewards from their political masters must be lucrative.”
Numerous countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Britain, and Germany, have expressed their concern about the federal court judgement.
The Swiss foreign ministry has said it will address the matter at the next meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The ministry will also raise the issue of Anwar’s conviction during the next round of bilateral political talks with Malaysia, scheduled to take place in Switzerland later this year.
Anwar has already spent two years in political detention and six years in prison after an earlier conviction on corruption and sodomy charges.
After his first trial on sodomy and corruption charges in 1998, he was convicted and given a nine-year prison sentence.
The verdict was partially overturned in 2004, resulting in his release from prison as he had already served his sentence for the corruption offence.
Following his release, Anwar became the leading figure in the opposition and helped coalesce the opposition parties into the Pakatan Rakyat grouping. The PKR allied itself with the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) in 2008, just after the election.
In the 2008 election, the three parties had gained control of five state assemblies and made significant gains at the federal level.
Saiful’s accusation came just months after Pakatan Rakyat was formed.
Article slightly updated on 16/02/2015
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