Saturday 23 July 2011

Bishop says Najib's remarks on Christians puzzling

Catholic Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing today expressed puzzlement that Prime Minister Najib Razak could, after a trip to see the Pope Benedict in Rome earlier this week, still speak like as if “the sincerity of Malaysian Christians in their desire to dialogue with Muslims is subject to proof.”

“I don't want to sound carping and querulous especially after the announcement of diplomatic ties between Malaysia and the Vatican but the prime minister's latest remarks, to my mind, are nothing if not puzzling,” said the titular head of Roman Catholics in the Melaka-Johor diocese.

NONEBishop Paul, who is concurrently president of the Catholics' Bishops Conference of Malaysia, was referring to the Najib's remarks in Sepang yesterday that were directed at Christians.

“We wish to tell our friends, the Malaysian Christians … that if they respect us, we will also respect them,” the PM was reported by Malaysian Insider to have said.

“This is puzzling - painful even - coming from a leader who has just been to see the Pope and has announced the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Malaysia,” said Bishop Paul Tan.

“It is as if the loyalty of Christians to the constitution of the country which states that Islam is the official region of the federation is in doubt and the sincerity of Christians in their desire to dialogue with Muslims is subject to proof,” he asserted.

“Begging the prime minister's pardon, I feel matters are the other way round. It is his government's fidelity to the freedom of religion guarantees in the constitution that is in doubt, not Christians' respect for Islam,” argued Bishop Paul Tan.

“Our subscription to the constitution ipso facto is respect for Islam as the official religion of the country. The Roman Catholics Church is a founding member of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST).

“The initiative to form the council in 1984 was a reflection of the desire of Christians to dialogue with other religions,” he reminded.

Meeting with Pope a window dressing

Bishop Paul Tan said Muslims don't want to be part of the MCCBCHST “for reasons better known to them and which I don't want to comment.”

“Yet, after our oft-repeated loyalty to the constitution and our efforts at promoting inter-religious dialogue, it is our sincerity that is subject to proof, judging from the prime minister's remarks,” said Bishop Paul Tan.

“I take no relish in saying this but say it I must: this invidious double standards in judgment of the sincerity of Christians has gone so long that if unchallenged it would become the conventional wisdom,” he asserted.

NONE“The prime minister's trip to the Vatican, as I had feared, was so much window dressing - his latest remarks are the confirmation,” he said.

Bishop Paul Tan said: “At this point, superfluous as it may seem, I want to reaffirm the loyalty of Malaysian Christians, particularly of Roman Catholics, to the constitution which upholds Islam as the official religion of the federation.

“Also, I want to reiterate our unwavering desire to dialogue with Muslims whom I welcome as brothers in our common humanity. May we not be wise above measure and sobriety but we must cultivate truth in charity.”

Cops send Uncle Bersih to psychiatric ward

Maverick Sarawak activist Hii Tiong Huat, who had been arrested by police thrice in two weeks for supporting Bersih 2.0, was sent to psychiatric ward last night by the police.

malaysiakini acnmc conference 021010 chou z lamAccording to documentary film-maker Chou Z Lam (right), who visited Hii last night and this morning at the hospital, Hii was admitted to Hospital Kuala Lumpur's psychiatric ward without his permission.

"After he was released by the police last night, he insisted that the police send him to hospital to have his injuries examined.
"He said the injuries were caused by the police, therefore they were responsible to send him to the hospital," Chou said when contacted today.

However, without Hii's consent and knowledge, said Chou, the police arranged with the hospital authorities and sent him to the psychiatric ward instead.

NONE"The doctor rejected my demand to have him discharged on the grounds that I'm not his family member.
"Currently we are getting a lawyer to deal with the situation," he said, adding that Hii's family resides in Sibu, Sarawak.

Chou said Hii (left, in yellow) was calm when he met him last night and this morning.

"He complained that other patients had spat on his injuries, saying that it would cure them. The hospital did not treat his injuries properly.

"I'm worried about his situation. His mobile phone has been taken away. What happens if he is hurt by other patients? Who should be responsible?" Chow asked.

Arrested three times

Hii was first arrested one day before the Bersih 2.0 rally for holding a one-man protest in Petaling Street, and was released after being held for five days.

NONEHe then lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), claiming that the police had slapped him nearly 10 times while he was in their custody.

Unperturbed by the arrest, the "Uncle Bersih", as netizens call him after a YouTube video of him being arrested received hundreds of thousands of views, repeated the stunt at the entrance of the Pudu LRT station yesterday morning, resulting in his second arrest.

His third arrest took place soon after he was released.

According to Hii, he was arrested around 1pm while waiting at a bus stop with his self-made Bersih 2.0 signboard.
He claimed that he was not protesting but merely sitting at the bus stop.

NONEHii accused the police of pushing him to the ground during the arrest, causing him to suffer injuries on various parts of his body.

The Sarawak activist had contested in the 2011 Sarawak state election as an Independent but lost his deposit. 

He has also announced he will be running for Lanang parliamentary seat in the next general election. 

Hii is well-known in Sibu for his eccentric behaviour and campaign gimmicks during the elections.

Later in the afternoon, DAP Teratai assemblyperson Janice Lee and a lawyer turned up at the hospital to demand for Hii's discharge.

The attending doctor eventually agreed to discharge him on the condition that one of his family members comes to the hospital to sign the relevant documentation.

Chou said Hii's wife will fly to Kuala Lumpur tonight from Sibu to attend to the necessary paperwork.

Scorpene dinner a blast despite missing lawyer

The deportation of their special guest French lawyer William Bourdon did not dampen Suaram's Ops Scorpene fund-raising dinner last night at Petaling Jaya Civic Centre.

suaram submarine dinner 230711 03More than 500 people turned up in a show of solidarity for the 55-year-old Frenchman whom Suaram had hired for the human rights NGO's pending Scorpene trial in France.

Speakers at the dinner included PKR MPs Nurul Izzah (Lembah Pantai) and Tian Chua (Batu), as well as cartoonist Zunar, all of whom condemned the BN government's deportation of Bourdon.

Nurul Izzah said that this move was a test for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, whether he still could still win the hearts of the people with his 'economic transformation programme'.

“In fact, this kick helped our cause even more,” she said, regretting that she could not meet Bourdon in person as a result.

suaram submarine dinner 230711 tian chuaEchoing Nurul, Tian Chua (right) said that Bourdon's detention yesterday morning reminded him of Malaysian Hollywood star Michelle Yeoh, who has been blacklisted by the military regime in Burma for playing pro-democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi in an upcoming film.

“Sad to say, the (Malaysian government) has reduced us to the level of Burma,” he said.

Zunar, meanwhile, questioned why Bourdon was barred from entering the country to speak the truth, when Najib could fly overseas and spread misinformation.

“Why is it Bourdon cannot come from abroad to tell us the truth, meanwhile our prime minister can go abroad to tell lies?” he quipped.

PJ dinner raised RM200,000

french lawyer William BourdonSuaram has filed a legal case in Paris with Bourdon's (right) help, with claims that the French defence giant DCNS had paid RM540 million in commissions to a middleman Perimekar for the Defence Ministry's purchase of two submarines.

Such payments are illegal under French laws.
Perimekar is a subsidiary of KS Ombak Laut Sdn Bhd, the major shareholder of which is Mazlinda Makhzan, wife to Abdul Razak Baginda, a confidante of Najib Abdul Razak, then deputy prime minister and defence minister.
To raise funds for the suit, Suaram this week organised three fund-raising dinner in Penang, Petaling Jaya and Ipoh where Bourdon was to give a case briefing.

suaram submarine dinner 230711 zunarThe lawyer managed to attend the first in Penang to a packed audience on Thursday night before his detention upon touch down in KLIA the following day.

He was deported last night after several hours' detention along with his fiancée Lea Foriester, also a lawyer.

The dinner last night, minus Bourdon, successfully raised over RM200,000.

The emcee announced that they received RM150,000 in ticket sales alone, while Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and Selangor MB Khalid Ibrahim donated RM20,000 each.

suaram submarine dinner 230711 yellow submarineThe dinner raised RM4,000 in an auction for Zunar's 'Scorpene in Yellow Land' painting, and RM650 for a yellow submarine cake (left).

Guests also made on the spot donations totalling RM6,526 in a show support for Suaram.
Suaram had filed a legal case against DCNS over alleged irregularities in the deal back in 2009.
The matter has passed the initial inquiry stage and is expected to be heard in French courts in September.

Thus far, Bourdon's team have uncovered evidence which may point to millions of ringgit paid out to top Malaysian government officials.

Polls unpredictable with spike in new voters, says Nomura

July 22, 2011
Nomura said the massive increase in new voters was likely to intensify competition. — Reuters file pic
KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — An estimated increase of 3.2 million new voters by the first quarter of 2013 could make the outcome of the next general election highly unpredictable, equities research firm Nomura says in a report released yesterday. 

The research house said that when combined with the 2.58 million registered voters who did not turn up at the 2008 elections, the increase in voters could reach 9.43 million.

The huge increase in new voters was very significant, Nomura said, and likely to intensify competition, given the narrow margin of victory of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in 2008 of a mere 384,688 votes.

“Malaysia is heading into uncharted territory, with the increase in the number of voters at levels that could make the election outcome highly unpredictable,” Nomura said in its report.

It said 3.2 million new voters would boost the total eligible voter pool by 22 per cent, to 17.6 million by 2013, which is when the next general election has to be held.

As at July last year, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) was leading in the voter registration drive, signing up twice the number of voters compared with Barisan Nasional (BN) in the first six months of 2010.

The DAP was also leading in signing up more voters compared with other political parties, registering 32.5 per cent of the new 169,838 voters registered between January and June last year.

Umno followed, registering 32.3 per cent of the new voters, with PAS at 22.7 per cent.

PR was also surprisingly ahead of BN in registering voters in Johor, seen as an Umno stronghold. PR registered  almost 60 per cent of the new voters registered by political parties.

But even if PR were to win the popular vote count with the new voters, it does not follow that it would win government.

With the first-past-the-post system that Malaysia practises rather than proportional representation, a party can still win the popular vote but fall short on winning government.

In the 2008 polls, BN obtained 4.1 million votes, or about 51.4 per cent of the total, giving it a 63 per cent share of parliamentary seats.

PR obtained 3.8 million votes — 47.8 per cent of the total — yet gained a disproportionate 37 per cent of the parliamentary seats.

According to the Election Commission, 70 per cent of the 4.3 million unregistered voters are between the ages of 21 and 40, and about 450,000 Malaysians turn 21 each year, the eligible age for voting.

Young people were a key voter segment that swung in favour of the opposition in Election 2008, carrying it to record gains.

PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu said that young voters were more inclined towards change, which would make it more challenging for the incumbent BN, which has been in power since independence in 1957.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, however, has been sending out the message of reform with his administration’s transformation programmes, and has also been wooing the younger electorate with promises of more jobs as well as reaching out to them via new media channels such as Facebook.

Scorpene lawyer deported, RM16b in defence deals quizzed

July 23, 2011
Bourdon was in Malaysia to brief activists on the Scorpene graft probe in France. — Reuters pic
PETALING JAYA, July 23 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) seized on the sudden deportation of William Bourdon last night to renew scrutiny into billion-ringgit defence contracts said to be as scandalous as the RM7 billion Scorpene submarine deal that the lawyer was pursuing in France.
PR lawmakers told an audience of 500 here last night that the French lawyer’s deportation showed the Najib administration wanted to keep facts about defence deals hidden.

“We know French police have obtained quite crucial documents, linking (Datuk Seri) Najib Razak, our beloved prime minister himself. That is why irrational actions were taken today,” said PKR vice president Nurul Izzah Anwar.

Nurul Izzah said the government’s reaction will draw added scrutiny to the deals. — Picture by Choo Choy May
The Lembah Pantai MP added, “the fact that the Malaysian government has kicked Bourdon out most dishonourably today has helped our cause even more.” The French lawyer was held in the aircraft by three immigration officers when he landed in Sepang from Penang yesterday morning.
She said that Bourdon’s deportation and Barisan Nasional’s (BN) clampdown on the July 9 Bersih rally for free and fair elections raised questions of Najib’s “pronouncements of transformation.”

DAP publicity chief Tony Pua spent 20 minutes recounting three other defence deals made over the past three years totalling RM16 billion for vehicles that cost Malaysia far more than other countries.

The Petaling Jaya Utara MP told his constituents that this included the RM2.3 billion for 12 Eurocopter EC725 helicopters, RM6 billion for six offshore patrol vessels (OPV) and RM7.8 billion for 257 armoured personnel carriers.

He said that questions over these deals in the media or in Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee were met with the repeated refrain of “itu rahsia (that is secret). The armed forces and defence ministry officials insisted they could not expose military secrets to the rest of the world.”

According to Pua, Brazil had purchased the Eurocopters at just RM82 million per unit as opposed to RM190 million paid by Malaysia, while New Zealand paid just RM240 million per OPV versus the RM1 billion each paid by Malaysia.

He also pointed out that the 257 armoured vehicles are to be supplied by local conglomerate DRB-Hicom, who in turn had bought the vehicles from a Turkish firm for just RM1.9 billion, only a quarter of the price that Malaysian taxpayers would fork out eventually.

The purchase of two submarines from French defence company DCNS in 2002 was made when Najib was still defence minister and a company run by Abdul Razak Baginda, said to be a close aide of the then-deputy prime minister, was reported to have received commissions of over RM500 million from the deal.

People attend Suaram’s Scorpene investigation fundraiser in Petaling Jaya, July 22, 2011. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Human rights groups and opposition parties here also linked the episode to the 2006 murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu.
Bourdon had arrived here from Penang, where he spoke at a fundraiser organised by rights group Suaram regarding the Scorpene submarine deal and was scheduled to speak at last night’s event.

In December 2009, Suaram filed a complaint with the French courts asking for access to information regarding government contracts signed with Abdul Razak’s Perimekar Sdn Bhd and other information classified as official secrets in Malaysia.

The French courts accepted the request to investigate claims of graft in the RM500 million payment from DCNS to Perimekar.

Resolve remains firm despite deportation

EXCLUSIVE Despite his surprise detention in Sepang, French lawyer William Bourdon has vowed to continue his mission to expose the truth behind a controversial deal involving the purchase of two Scorpene submarines by the Malaysian government.

The deal inked between the government and French defence giant DCNS has allegedly resulted in kickbacks amounting to millions of ringgit to top Malaysian officials.
According to French law, such kickbacks are illegal and punishable.

NONESpeaking to Malaysiakini about nine hours after his detention at the KL International Airport, Bourdon (left) said his “willingness to serve his clients” remains strong despite being denied entry into the country.

“I would like to tell my friends in Malaysia that I will continue my mission to serve them. I will not give up,” he said.

“I want to tell them to take care and to have courage to continue their fight for justice,” he added.

Bourdon said he was baffled by the government's decision to abruptly deport him as he had not broken any law and has come to the country as a duty to his client Suaram, a local and legitimate human rights NGO.

However, when his plane from Penang touched down at the KLIA at about 11.40am, Immigration officials arrested him and took him to a holding centre at the airport, where he was questioned for several hours about his visit to the country.

“I was asked about what I did in Penang. I told them as I have nothing to hide,” he said.
“I was questioned by three officers who were fairly friendly to me, but who were not able to explain to me properly why I was being detained,” he added.

'Not allowed local legal representation'

Bourdon was upset that he was not allowed to be represented by local lawyers or accompanied by his fiancee, Lea Foriester, during his detention.

“I asked to see my friends, who are local lawyers, but I was not allowed to do so,” he lamented.
When told that that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are flooded with news about his detention, Bourdon expressed gratefulness at the overwhelming support.

Last night, Bourdon spoke to a large crowd at Suaram's fundraising dinner dubbed 'Ops Scorpene' in Penang - the NGO's latest effort to raise funds to pay for legal costs of the case involving the submarines which it filed, via the lawyer, in Paris last year.

During his speech, Bourdon spoke about the RM7.3 billion deal, revealing some details about the beneficiaries of the deal, saying he was determined to expose the corruption related to claims that DCNS paid RM540 million in commission to Perimekar for the purchase of two submarines.

Perimekar is a subsidiary of KS Ombak Laut Sdn Bhd, of which the major shareholder is Abdul Razak Baginda's wife, Mazlinda Makhzan.

Abdul Razak is a close confidante of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who was then deputy prime minister and defence minister overseeing the procurement of the submarines.

The former was charged with abetting two of Najib's bodyguarded in the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu in 2006.

Abdul Razak escaped the gallows without his defence being called, while the two police officers are currently appealing their death sentence.

In his probe, Bourdon has uncovered another 30 million euros (RM150 million) paid to DCNS' commercial network Thales and another 2.5 million euros (RM7.5 million) to an unknown recipient.
Suaram recently revealed that a third commission, an amount bigger than the earlier two, had been paid to highly placed government officials.

Detention based on Section 9(a) of Immigration Act

Meanwhile, it is learnt that Bourdon's detention was based on Section 9(a) of the Immigration Act, which gives the director-general powers to prohibit entry and cancel permits of individuals considered prejudicial to the nation, “where he deems to be expedient to do so”.

Initially, Bourdon refused to sign his papers as they were in Bahasa Malaysia, but later he signed the English version of the document.

“I was then told that I would be detained until Sunday as the departure date on my tickets was until then,” he said.

“I looked at the officers, and with a smile, told them that this was surely a joke, a farce,” he quipped.
“Then I told the officers that we would arrange for the earliest possible flight out of the country at our own cost,” he added.

Bourdon then contacted his travel agent in France whom he described as “very professional” in making the arrangement for an earlier flight.

He did not have to wait long and his new flight details came via fax at the Immigration office.
Bourdon regrets that he was unable to attend a similar fund-raising dinner in Petaling Jaya tonight, which proceeded as scheduled despite his absence.

The 56-year-old lawyer told Malaysiakini that he had earlier issued a statement which was read out by Lea (left) - also a lawyer - at the KLIA.
In his statement, Bourdon said he had acted with full respect of his duties and had complied with the country's and international laws.

“I consider this deportation as a breach of my right to freely exercise my profession as a lawyer,” he added.

The veteran lawyer, who spent about 30 years fighting corruption and human rights abuses, said he does not understand why the government has taken this decision to deport him.

“I was not informed about anything and for some time, did not understand what was going on,” he added.

He was deported on a flight to Paris which departed at about 11.30pm tonight.

Friday 22 July 2011

Medical associations call for Jeyakumar's release

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has called on the prime minister and home minister to immediately release Dr D Jeyakumar, currently detained for nearly a month under the Emergency Ordinance since his arrest on July 2.

penang psm dinner 181210 jeyakumar devarajThe PSM member and Sungai Siput MP (right) is a life member of the association of 13,000 members from the medical profession.

“During the past few weeks, the MMA has received numerous phone calls, emails and messages from many of our members expressing their concern and distress about Dr Jeyakumar's arrest and continued detention,” said MMA president Dr Mary Suma Cardosa in a statement today.

She adds that the World Medical Association (WMA) has also sent the BN leaders a similar call.

The president-elect of the international association called on the PM to “respect international fair trial standards and immediately release all activists or charge them with a recognisable criminal offence”.On June 25 30 PSM members including Jeyakumar were detained at Sungai Dua toll plaza for allegedly “waging war against the king”.

They were released on July 2, but Jeyakumar and five others were immediately re-arrested under the Emergency Ordinance (EO).

Lawyer Bourdon detained at KLIA, to be deported

French lawyer William Bourdon, who was in Penang last night to speak about the controversial Scorpene submarines deal allegedly involving millions of ringgit in kickbacks to Malaysian government officials, was detained at the KL International Airport this morning.

NONEIt is understood that he will put on a plane bound for Paris at about 11.30 tonight.

“Everything is okay. I am so sorry to leave my friends; we fly tonight for Paris. Keep in touch, take care and have courage,” said Bourdon in an email message. 

According to Suaram director Cynthia Gabriel, immigration officials boarded the aircraft and detained Bourdon soon after their plane touched down at KLIA in Sepang this morning.

"He was immediately taken to the immigration holding centre at KLIA," Gabriel told Malaysiakini.
The immigration officers had initially disallowed Bourdon's wife Lia Foriester, also a lawyer, to accompany him to the holding centre.

Following some negotiations, she was eventually allowed to do so.
According to Gabriel, the officers wanted to "question" Bourdon.
NONEGabriel (centre in photo) said Bourdon told her over the phone after four hours of detention that the deportation process was under way.

Bourdon arrived yesterday but did not go through KLIA immigration as he was on transit to Penang.
The 55-year-old French lawyer was due to speak at a fund-raising dinner in Petaling Jaya tonight and at another dinner in Ipoh tomorrow.

At a packed dinner in Penang last night to raise funds for the pending Scorpene trial in France, in which the NGO Suaram is involved, Bourdon said the case would also expose details of secret meetings of those involved.

He said those beneficiaries and kickbacks from the RM7.3 billion Scorpene submarine deal would be exposed when the matter is raised at the French corruption trial against defence giant DCNS.

Four men boarded the plane 

At a hastily called press conference at KLIA, Gabriel - who had flown in from Penang with Bourdon and his wife - recounted how four uniformed individuals boarded their plane and detained Bourdon.

NONE"We touched down at 11.40am from Penang, and immediately three immigration officers entered the plane and detained him. There was also another officer in a green uniform, who I believe to be with the auxiliary police.

"They then took him to the immigration holding centre, but they stopped me from entering. They were shouting 'jangan ikut, jangan ikut' while holding up their hands," she said.

Gabriel slammed the authorities for taking such "arbitrary and irrational" action in detaining Bourdon while he was still on the plane, calling it a hallmark of a government "moving towards a full dictatorship".

Fadiah Nadwa Fitri of Lawyers for Liberty pointed out that it would be very difficult to challenge Bourdon's detention, even if the authorities did not give any grounds for it, as the Immigration Act allowed them far-reaching powers to act.

"Under the Act, they have the power to stop him, deny him entry and deport him with no obligation to explain why.

"But where is the due process? If you infringe someone's right to freedom of movement, then at least tell them why," Fadiah said.

Why is the government so afraid?

She explained that Bourdon's detention was based on Section 9(a) of the Immigration Act, which gives the director-general powers to prohibit entry and cancel permits of individuals considered prejudicial to the nation, "where he deems to be expedient to do so".

"What is so prejudicial to Bourdon being here? That is the question (Prime Minister) Najib (Abdul Razak) should answer," Fadiah said.

Gabriel echoed Fadiah's sentiments, pointing out that the government's action against Bourdon, who was scheduled to fly home on Sunday, would only raise more questions surrounding the controversial submarine deal.

"Why is the government so afraid? This incident only shows that the government really does have something to hide," she said.

ops scorpene dinner 220711 crowdMeanwhile, Suaram project coordinator Sarah Devaraj said their fund-raising dinner in Petaling Jaya tonight will go on as scheduled, despite the absence of Bourdon.

She said they expected at least 700 people to attend the event at the PJ Civic Centre, aimed at raising funds to cover the legal costs of Suaram's court action in France. 

Third commission 

Suaram last year filed the legal case in Paris, with the help of Bourdon, over claims that DCNS paid RM540 million in commission to Perimekar for the purchase of two submarines.

altantuya razak baginda mongolian murder 190607 wifeSuch payments are illegal under French laws. Perimekar is a subsidiary of KS Ombak Laut Sdn Bhd, of which the major shareholder is Abdul Razak's wife, Mazlinda Makhzan (right).

Bourdon has uncovered another 30 million euros (RM150 million) paid to DCNS' commercial network Thales and another 2.5 million euros (RM7.5 million) to an unknown recipient.

Suaram recently revealed that a third commission, an amount bigger than the earlier two, had been paid to highly placed government officials.

azlanBourdon and his team of lawyers at Sherpa - a not-for-profit organisation he founded in 2001 that focuses on improving legal tools to promote corporate social responsibility - have been providing pro bono services to Suaram thus far.

Active in initiating legal procedures in France against former Serbian and Rwandan leaders suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes, Bourdon also served as legal council for Franco-Chilean families who were victims of the former dictator Augusto Pinochet.

From 1995 to 2000, he was general-secretary of the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR).

Bourdon: Scorpene court case will reveal beneficiaries

French lawyer William Bourdon said those beneficiaries and kickbacks from the RM7.3 billion Scorpene submarine deal would be revealed when the matter is raised in a French corruption trial against defence giant DCNS.

ops scorpene dinner 220711 crowdAddressing a packed dinner in Penang last night to raise funds for the trial, Bourdon said the case would also expose details of secret meetings of those involved.

He said that he and his legal team from Sherpa, a non-profit organisation, are committed to exposing such details to ensure that Malaysians would obtain "truth and justice".

"Despite many obstacles and although such proceedings are complex and difficult, the truth shall emerge in France and we will expose the corruption related to the submarine deal.

ops scorpene dinner 220711 willian bourdon"We will reveal and disclose details on all the beneficiaries. I am confident that Malaysians can overcome difficulties and I wish you courage," he told 600 attendees at the dinner dubbed 'Ops Scorpene', organised by human rights advocacy group Suaram.

Suaram had filed a legal case against DCNS back in 2009 over alleged irregularities in the deal. The matter has passed the initial inquiry stage and is expected to be heard in French courts in September.

The Najib link

Thus far, Bourdon's team have uncovered evidence which may point to millions of ringgit paid out to top Malaysian government officials.

They have also claimed that two individuals - Abdul Razak Baginda and Altantuya Shaariibuu - had benefitted from a French company in form of travel expenses.

This has added intrigue to the case which is bound to create ripples when the matter goes to court.

NONEAt the time of the deal, Abdul Razak ran a defence procurement company and was also a defence and political analyst. But he was better known as a confidante to Najib Abdul Razak, then deputy prime minister and defence minister.

Altantuya, reportedly fluent in French and Russian, was believed to have worked for Abdul Razak as a translator.

azlanIn 2009, Najib's two bodyguards were convicted of murdering Altantuya by blowing her body to bits with military grade explosives in 2006, while Abdul Razak was acquitted of abetting the duo.

The legal case was filed last year by Suaram with the help of Bourdon and his team over claims that DCNS paid RM540 million in commission to Perimekar. Such payments are illegal under French laws.

Perimekar is a subsidiary of KS Ombak Laut Sdn Bhd, of which the major shareholder is Abdul Razak's wife, Mazlinda Makhzan.

Overcoming obstacles in Paris

Thus far, Bourdon has uncovered another 30 million euros (RM150 million) paid to DCNS' commercial network Thales and another 2.5 million euros (RM7.5 million) to an unknown recipient.

ops scorpene dinner 220711 psm campaignSuaram recently revealed that a third commission, an amount bigger than the earlier two, had been paid to highly placed government officials.

Bourdon said the crime of corruption is always "secret in nature" and the Sherpa team had to overcome many obstacles in the course of their investigation.

"Another characteristic of corruption is that its beneficiaries seek impunity. This makes it difficult for us to obtain truth and justice.

"But I assure you that we will continue the fight against corruption and I asked the Malaysian people to continue the struggle as we need courage, tenacity and patient to deal with corruption," he said.

The case has seen some progress in France after documents related to the deal have been seized by the police in a raid on the company allegedly involved in the scandal.

French probe to zoom into Altantuya-subs deal link

EXCLUSIVE Investigations by French authorities into the controversial RM7.3 billion Scorpene submarine deal, which allegedly involves kickbacks to top Malaysian officials, may shed light on the mystery surrounding the death of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Paris-based lawyer William Bourdon, who was in Penang yesterday, said the probe would probably reveal relevant details related to Altantuya's involvement in the purchase of the two French submarines by Malaysia.

NONEPolice investigations have already revealed that Altantuya and Abdul Razak Baginda, a close confidante of Prime Minister Najib Razak, had been beneficiaries of travel expenses paid by an obscure French company in Malta.

Bourdon (left), who was detained by immigration officers at the KL International Airport upon arriving from Penang about 10.30am today, said he had kept abreast of Altantuya's case since her death in 2006, and had noted that her murder trial had been overly dramatised.

Speaking to Malaysiakini in exclusive interview just hours before he was detained by immigration authorities, who boarded his plane at KLIA this morning, Bourdon said: "The manner in which the trial was conducted provoked many questions; a lot of obscurity remains regarding her murder."

The trial ended in 2008 with two of the bodyguards of Najib, who was then deputy prime minister and defence minister, being convicted of her murder.

The duo are currently appealing their death sentence. Abdul Razak, who had been charged with abetting the duo, was acquitted without being called to make his defence.

altantuya razak baginda mongolian murder 020707 short hairObservers had remarked that despite the high-profile trial, two pertinent questions surrounding Altantuya's murder were yet to be answered: why was she killed and who ordered her killing?

Najib, who as defence minister was in charge of the mega-Scorpene submarine deal, has denied any involvement in the murder.

On the Suaram case which the lawyer filed in Paris last year, Bourdon said he was confident he would be able to access the related documents and files very soon.

These expose is expected to bring to book high-profile Malaysian officials who are said to have received kickbacks amounting to millions of ringgit from the submarine deal.

Bourdon said the case was still under the investigation phase, where the police still interrogating witnesses.
On behalf of human rights group Suaram, Bourdon has applied to the public prosecutor to allow the Kuala Lumpur-based NGO to be admitted as a civil plaintiff in court.

If accepted, he said, an investigative judge will be appointed to handle the case.

"The investigative judge is the only real independent institution to deal with sensitive cases such as corruption," he said.
No real democracy if judges not independent
On whether the independence of the judiciary could be guaranteed, Bourdon said this would be assured through the appointment of the investigative judge by an independent body.

"The judges in such cases answer to no political hierarchy, so there is at least a legal guarantee that ensures their independence," he added.

"There can be no real democracy if judges are not independent."

However, Bourdon does not discount the fact that in sensitive cases like corruption, there could be a possibility of the public prosecutor being approached to keep the truth from coming out.

"Especially if the truth is dangerous (to the people who approach the prosecutors)," he said.

NONE"Which is why we need an independent media to balance between state power and these institutions," he said, adding quickly that he was aware of the current state of the media in Malaysia.

Although Bourdon - who was accompanied by his lawyer wife, Lia Foriester, in his trip to Malaysia - is confident that the case is making headway in France, he is still careful not to be presumptuous on whether Suaram would eventually be accepted as a civil plaintiff.

This is due to the circumstances in any case involving corruption, which can be very challenging anywhere in the world, he said.

The public prosecutor could well deny Suaram the right to appear as civil plaintiff and if this happened, Bourdon said, he would definitely file an appeal.

Even if Suaram failed to make it to court, there would be the opportunity for its lawyers to access the relevant documents and files in the case.

"In my opinion, if Suaram is not accepted as a civil plaintiff, it would seem like a breach of international legal standards and law," Bourdon added.
A Plan B in place
In any case, he said, he has a Plan B, about which he would not speak now. "All I can say is that we will move forward."

Bourdon himself has been involved in battles to make government leaders accountable for their corrupt ways and in issues of human rights abuse over the past 30 years.

He set up Sherpa, a non-profit organisation, with other lawyers in Paris in 2005 to work on international justice cases.

He has conducted about 50 monitoring missions in several countries.

military malaysia navy french built submarine scorpene classDuring the course of his work in various countries, the authorities have threatened him with deportation - but never went through with it.

They did, however, monitor his movements and he felt he was 'in permanent control by the secret police', for example, in Tunisia and Turkey, from 1995-2005.

In all these years, his team has not only registered defeat but there have also been several victories.

For example, in a forced labour case between France and Thailand, his intervention helped secure a better life and working conditions for his clients.

Bourdon said he has realised that these days citizens, from Malaysia to Tunisia, were no longer tolerant of corruption.

"In the last 20 years, there has been a sense of resignation where corrupt practices are in a way 'acceptable' but not any more," he said.

"What has become important is democracy and rule of law, and corruption involving government leaders can break the confidence of public votes," he added.

Wikileaks: US envoy says Umno abused security laws, institutions

KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — The United States ambassador here told Washington in 2008 that Malaysia was facing a “political crisis” caused by Umno’s control and abuse of security institutions and national security laws to remain in power.

US ambassador James R. Keith said in a leaked cable, released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks through the Malaysia Today news portal that “in good times Umno can maintain control by distributing power and money to get what it wants (but) in bad times, it uses the stick, and for now that means intimidation.”
The document, signed by the US ambassador at the time, charged that Umno “controlled” security institutions like the military and the police by appointing “party stalwarts” to head these institutions. The cable said that while the army would remain “loyal” to legitimate leadership, the police, on the other hand, took direct orders from Umno.

“Umno leaders, united behind but also in a sense using Prime Minister (Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, have made it clear that they are willing to blacken Malaysia’s reputation to ensure the end to opposition leader (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim’s political challenge,” said the cable in reference to the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leader’s on-going sodomy trial where he was charged with sodomising an ex-aide on June 26, 2008.
“The ruling elite maintains control over the security apparatus through party stalwarts who run the security institutions, mainly the police but also the military. We believe the military will remain loyal to legitimate leadership and is not a likely tool to overturn an elected, royally-approved and Malay-led government from either the ruling or opposition side. The police, on the other hand, follow orders from the ruling party.

The document also stated that the government had “failed” to convince the majority of Malaysians that Anwar’s sodomy trial was not politically-motivated. — file pic
“The “commando-style” arrest of Anwar last week, the roadblocks and security checks throughout the city of Kuala Lumpur, the recent arrest of blogger Raja Petra (Kamaruddin), intimidation of Sabah politicians, and the authorities’ strident rhetoric are all part of a broad message to the Malaysian people that they had better not stand in Umno’s path. In today’s Malaysia, one can get along by going along (and of course one can go farther as a Malay rather than a Chinese or Indian), but it is also true that one can be run over,” said the US cable. 
The cable added that Umno defined national security as a means to protect the party’s “superiority” and to ensure that the opposition cannot take over the reins of federal power.
“Now the criminal law is laid bare as a political tool, just as useful to the ruling party as the national security law.

“Umno leaders may fail to grasp the consequences of upping the ante; they hear what we are saying, but do not understand sufficiently well how difficult it will be for them to overcome the shadows they are casting on the country. They no doubt thought they were choosing the more palatable path in using the criminal law, and thus the sodomy charge, rather than detaining Anwar as a matter of national security under the Internal Security Act. But contrary to their intent, many in the international community will take this as escalation,” said the cable.

The document stated that at that point in time the Barisan Nasional (BN) government had “failed” to convince the majority of Malaysians as well as the international community that Anwar’s sodomy trial was not politically-motivated.

“The authorities themselves betray that fiction on a daily basis in the pages of the domestic press, and barely one in 10 Malaysians are buying into the party line a survey tells us,” said the cable.

The report recommended that the US “exploit” every possible opportunity for “authoritative bilateral exchange” to ensure the BN government understood the costs of “efforts that diminish the rule of law.”

Malaysia needs free and fair elections, says former Umno minister

July 22, 2011
KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — A former Umno minister and lawmaker has reminded the Najib administration to uphold its “responsibility” in ensuring that free and fair elections are conducted in Malaysia. 
Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, who was Tourism Minister during the Mahathir administration, urged the government to engage with electoral reforms group Bersih, and reminded Barisan Nasional (BN) that one of the key reasons why it lost its two-thirds majority in 2008 was its failure to listen to Bersih’s demands back then.

Abdul Kadir said that Pakatan Rakyat (PR) managed to win 48 per cent of the country’s popular vote with Bersih’s support.

“A free and fair elections is very fundamental,” he said in a speech at the launch of Angkatan Amanah Merdeka (Amanah) here. “Why can’t we engage them (Bersih 2.0)?”

Abdul Kadir is deputy president of Amanah, led by former finance minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
Amanah aims to push for racial unity, good governance and respect for the federal constitution.
“The government will know whether elections are clean or not,” Abdul Kadir said. “Clean up the elections system so that people can choose the government they want.”

He proposed that the Election Commission (EC) include PR lawmakers as part of the commission to allow transparent scrutiny of the election body.

Abdul Kadir said “the year is 2011” and that Malaysians were more educated and demanded a fair and just government administration.

“You must have a good and clean government. Right now money is being spent everywhere; is it accounted for? I cannot sleep at night thinking about it.

“I’m happy that the government is against corruption, but do it properly. Jangan cakap tak serupa bikin (don’t say what you don’t mean),” he added.

Bersih estimates that 50,000 people showed up at the July 9 rally for free and fair elections despite efforts to prevent it from taking place, while police have said there were only 6,000.

The protest turned chaotic when police fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of demonstrators, resulting in nearly 1,700 arrests, scores injured and the death of former military man Baharuddin Ahmad, 59.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has said it will hold a public inquiry into police conduct during the rally following reports that they used excessive force to disperse protesters.
Police yesterday cleared themselves of wrongdoing following an internal probe into alleged police brutality, and have instead laid blame on Bersih protesters for provoking the police.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has accused the Bersih group of trying to seize power through mass rallies, while dismissing the electoral reform group’s allegations of poll fraud.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Police nab S'wak maverick activist once again

Maverick Sarawak activist Hii Tiong Huat was arrested by the police again today - less than two weeks after his last detention - for a replay of his one-man protest in Kuala Lumpur.

According the NGO Suaram, Hii was nabbed at the entrance of the Pudu LRT station at 10.30am after holding a protest in the city centre.
He was subsequently taken to the Dang Wangi police station.

NONEWhen contacted, a Dang Wangi police officer in charge of those in custody refused to provide any information, and hung up before he could be asked for the name of the officer investigating the case.

Hii, 60, contested in the recent Sarawak state election, as an independent candidate for the Bukit Assek seat.

He was arrested one day before the Bersih 2.0 rally for holding a one-man protest in Petaling Street, and was released after being held for five days.

Hii, who claimed that the police slapped him nearly 10 times while he was held in their custody, has taken his case to the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam).
It is learned that he was released without charge at 4.30pm today.

RCI wants MACC powers curbed to stem abuse, corruption

July 21, 2011
Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz holds up two copies of the report at Parliament today July 21 2011. — Picture by Choo Choy May
KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 — Selangor anti-graft officers flaunted “heady arrogance of power” over the Teoh Beng Hock case, said the royal panel investigating the death and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC)’s role it in.

The five-man panel said this concentration of investigative and prosecution powers in the chief commissioner was “anathematic” in a democracy and could lead to abuses of power and corruption, and strongly urged the law be amended to check the anti-graft body’s extensive powers.
“Opportunities for abuses of power are rife in the MACC Act,” the commission led by Federal Court judge Tan Sri James Foong said in its report today.

It said it had been exposed to blatant abuses of power by the Selangor MACC even as it was conducting its inquiry earlier this year, noting that “heady arrogance of power came into clear display when TBH and other witnesses were under investigation by the MACC officers.”

“The testimony of MACC officers such as Arman, HH and Hairul Ilham is demonstrative of the fact that there is a strong sense of arrogance amongst the Selangor MACC officers who testified under the belief [in our view, mistakenly] that they were not accountable to anyone in the exercise of their powers,” it said.
“We propose that the law be amended to prevent further abuses and misinterpretation of the law and to afford protection to witnesses and suspects against human-rights abuses as well as to take a more balance approach in the fight against corruption,” it said.

The royal panel said that under the existing MACC Act, a senior MACC officer had the same powers as a public prosecutor and a policeman, which was dangerous as the graftbuster could then investigate and charge a person for the offence in court.

“There must be a proper system of checks and balances to prevent any abuse of powers,” it said.
The RCI had earlier found that anti-graft officers in Selangor viewed witnesses and suspects as “the enemy” and were brutal in their interview techniques and had formed a “blue wall of silence” to “cover up the nefarious activities that took place on the 15th and 16th” of July 2009 when Teoh was taken and intensively questioned at the Selangor MACC’s then-headquarters.

It had also labelled three senior graft investigators it referred to as “Arman the bully, Ashraf the abuser and HH the arrogant leader” who had no qualms in violating basic human rights to extract information supporting their cases and concluded that most MACC officers in its Selangor office were prone to lying.
It noted that the Selangor MACC’s operation to obtain evidence to support its corruption case had led to the death of, whom it described in the report as “a young man in the prime of life who had everything to look forward to’ and whose family had been “robbed” of a son, brother, husband and father.

The Foong Commission said the “the weaknesses identified at Selangor needs to be addressed across the whole of the MACC, to a greater or lesser degree... to regain the confidence of the public.”

Government 'ashamed' to use ISA, says Bar Council

The detention of six Parti Sosialis Malaysia leaders under the Emergency Ordinance shows that the government is ashamed of using the draconian Internal Security Act, the Bar Council says.

azlanHowever, by using the EO, another "detention without trial" law, it showed that the government was passing the buck from the ruling BN to the police, Bar Council vice-chairperson Christopher Leong said.

Speaking at a forum on "EO: Another form of ISA political tool of the government" last night, Leong said both legislation were the same in nature, but should the ISA be used on the six, it would certainly look bad on the BN government as it claimed that it was amending the law.

"Hence, if the government uses something that is under amendment, it will receive further criticism. I think by using the EO, the government is seen to pass the buck to the police by saying the detention was done by them, not by the government.

"For the ISA, the order will come from the government, particularly the (home) minister, to detain a person. Under the EO, the order will come from the police. This is what I feel and think as to why the EO is being used to detain them," he said.

Leong said the use of the EO to detain politicians was something new, and that its use was mainly against alleged criminals and would see the detainees being held in Simpang Renggam, Johor, or elsewhere.

The six from PSM who have been detained since June 24 are Sungai Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, A Letchumanan, M Sukumaran, Sarasvathy Muthu, Choo Chon Kai and Sarat Babu.

More than 200 people of various races attended the forum last night to show support for the detainees. Earlier, they held a candle light vigil under the close supervision of about 50 policemen.

3,701 held under EO since 2000

According to another panelist, Edmund Bon, who is also a lawyer for the PSM6, a total of 3,701 people have been detained under the EO between 2000 and 2009 and this was according to international statistics.

NONE"We may never know the actual number, but there are many held under the EO and some of them are minors. It is worrying that such a legislation is still in existence," Bon (left) said.

He pointed out that to apply for remand by police, one needs the signature of an inspector but to apply the EO, a person with the rank of an assistant superintendent can sign the order.

Hence, he said, there was no check-and-balance to ensure transparency in the issuance of the order.

"For this reason, people should oppose the use of such a legislation to detain a person without trial," said Bon, who is also a campaigner with the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism and Human Rights.

He also said that recently, three youths arrested and held under the EO for motorcycle theft were denied their right to meet their counsel and even their parents.
Lawyers not allowed to do their job effectively
Similarly with the PSM6, he said, their lawyers were initially denied access to meet them and even when allowed, they were given only 15 minutes.

"There were six burly officers in the room and the session was video taped. This prevented us from doing our job effectively. When Dr Jeyakumar wanted to sign his papers, there were restrictions," he said.

Bon said although the hearing for the habeas corpus application would be heard tomorrow (Friday), there were indications that the police would apply for a postponement.

NONEHowever, Bon, who is part of the 20-member legal team, said they would oppose any postponement as EO cases were time sensitive and any delay would result in a two-year detention order to be issued, just as it was done under the ISA.

He said there was no ground for the detention, as initially the police and home minister claimed the PSM6 were being held for waging war against the King and reviving communism, but then, from the 37 police affidavits, there was not a shred of mention of communism.

The only words, he said were their suspected "key role in Bersih".

The lawyer said the team would today file an affidavit from a Bersih 2.0 steering committee member denying any role of the PSM6 in the coalition.

"There is no shred of evidence to detain the six any further," Bon reiterated.

Arutchelvam: Makes PSM more relevant

PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvam, who was the third panelist, said the detention of the six had brought more spotlight on PSM's struggles and "we have to thank the government and police for this", he joked.

NONEOn a serious note, Arutchelvam (right) said the arrests showed the "cleverness" of the police, as they could never decide on a proper charge - whether waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, to reviving communism or, as Bon had said, to finally "playing a key role in Bersih".

"On the weekend of June 24, PSM was having its Udahlah, Berubah (Enough, Change) campaign to highlight the party's struggle and call on the people to change the BN government. There were some of us wearing Chin Peng and Rashid Maidin (former Communist Party Malaysia leaders) T-shirts and distributing leaflets.

"We were in two convoys, with Dr Jeyakumar heading from the north to Sungai Siput and I was heading from Johor Baru to Kota Damansara. Both convoys were stopped and police informed me that the most offending material they found was the Bersih 2.0 eight demands for electoral reform," he said, adding the Bersih leaflets were not yellow but were photostat copies.

Arutchelvam pointed out that while the other EO detainees had been sent to Simpang Renggam, the six PSM leaders were still being held at Bukit Aman.

He called on the people to give their continued support for the release of the PSM6.

"On Friday (tomorrow) there will be the habeas corpus application and we call for many to turn up for support," he said.

NONELeong (left) agreed that there must be continued pressure to secure the release of the six PSM leaders.

He said under Article 150 of the Federal Constitution, the EO could only be repealed by Parliament.

"Unfortunately, the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara are mainly occupied by the BN. So unless the MPs move for it to be removed, it cannot be removed."

"This is a draconian law that should have been lifted. There are four emergencies declared by the country, the first being the Konfrontasi period of 1963, the second following the Sarawak crisis in 1967, the third during the racial riots of May 13, 1969 and fourth the Kelantan MB crisis in 1977," he said.

Leong pointed out that without lifting the declarations of emergency, new laws could be passed without going through the legislature and that this was not right in democratic Malaysia.

French lawyer in Penang to expose Scorpene deal

French lawyer William Bourdon, who is slated to speak at Suaram's fundraising dinner tonight, has arrived safely in Penang today.

Bourdon's flight from KLIA touched down at 10.25am and he gained entry into the state without any hassle.

Suaram director Cynthia Gabriel, who accompanied Bourdon on his trip here, said the latter did not face any problems at the Immigration in KLIA when he arrived late last night.
“It was a breeze. He is just a little tired from jetlag and needs to rest,” she told Malaysiakini.
french lawyer William BourdonBourdon (right) will speak at the dinner event in Bayan Baru tonight dubbed 'Ops Scorpene' together with other speakers including Cynthia, DAP national adviser Lim Kit Siang, PKR vice-president Tian Chua and PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu.

The legal eagle based in Paris works with a non-profit organisation - Sherpa - and specialises in the defence of human rights and victims of crimes against humanity.

Bourdon is expected to reveal controversial details on the submarine deal with French defence giant DCNS.

The company has allegedly paid commissions to “extremely high level” government officials in Malaysia involved in the contract inked in 2002.

Payment of commissions to government officials is illegal under French law.

azlanSuaram hopes to raise about RM100,000 from two other similar events in Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, after its stint in Penang, to cover the legal costs of a case filed in Paris, which may go to open court in September.

The case was filed last year by Suaram, through Bourdon and his team, over claims that DCNS paid RM540 million in commission to Perimekar.

Perimekar is a subsidiary of KS Ombak Laut Sdn Bhd, of which the major shareholder is the wife of Abdul Razak Baginda.

Abdul Razak is Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak's close confidante who was charged with but acquitted of abetment in the murder of translator Altantuya Shariibuu. 

Altantuya blown to smithereens

The Mongolian national was blown to smithereens by plastic explosives in a jungle clearing in Shah Alam in 2006. 

altantuya razak baginda mongolian murder 020707 short hairTwo of Najib's former bodyguards were convicted for the murder and are currently awaiting the death penalty.

Najib, who was then deputy prime minister and defence minister, was in charge of the mega-deal, but has denied any involvement in the murder of Altantuya (left).

Meanwhile, the French probe has also revealed that another €30 million (RM150 million) was paid to DCNS' commercial network Thales and another €2.5 million (RM7.5 million) to an unknown recipient.
Suaram recently revealed that a third commission, an amount bigger than the last payment, had been paid to highly placed government officials.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Allah row drags on despite Najib-Pope meet

KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s historic meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome two days ago was a major step towards better ties with the Catholic Church, but a top Islamic scholar’s remarks today that the “Allah” dispute was meant to provoke Muslim anger suggests the row is a long way from resolution.

A Muslim discourse at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) today showed the issue is unlikely to go away soon without intervention from the government, even after the Vatican and Putrajaya agreed to establish formal diplomatic ties following the prime minister’s meeting with the pope.

In his paper on “Kontroversi Nama Khas ‘Allah’ Dalam Konteks Pluralisme Agama” (Controversy over ‘Allah’ in the context of Religious Pluralism) Dr Mohd Sani Badron insists that the “mistranslation” of the word “God” as “Allah” in Malay bibles must be dropped because it wrongly depicts the two religions as being equals.

The economic and social studies director continued today to push the argument that, if not corrected, the mistranslation could cause further confusion.

“The translation of ‘God’ as ‘Allah’ is very wrong, it should be properly translated... we interpret not just the word but the meaning and if the meaning is inaccurate, it is wrong,” Mohd Sani told The Malaysian Insider.

“Meaning, the accurate term for ‘God’ [in Christianity] is ‘Tuhan’ and the word ‘Lord’ is also ‘Tuhan’, not ‘Allah’,” he added, after presenting his paper.

Najib (right) established formal ties between Malaysia and the Vatican. — Reuters pic
Local Catholic newspaper, The Herald, won the right to publish the word “Allah” to also refer to the Christian god in its Bahasa Malaysia edition at the High Court two years ago, but is unable to do so pending the home minister’s appeal.

The case has been languishing in the Court of Appeal since.
The Malay-language bibles detained at both Port Klang and Kuching Port two years ago and only recently released have put a clear division between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Some 200 Muslim academics from several government agencies as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) attended the earlier seminar hosted by Ikimar on “Al-Quran dan Cabaran Pluralisme Agama: Pengajaran Masa Lalu, Keperihalan Semasa dan Hala Tuju Masa Depan” (Al-Quran and the Challenge of Religious Pluralism: Lessons from the Past, the Present Issues and the Direction Ahead).

In his paper, Mohd Sani highlighted that the Christian interpretation of “Allah” in the Alkitab — as the Malay-language bible is called — carried a “plural form”.

This, he explained, had corrupted the exclusive name used to refer to Islam’s supreme being and gave several pointed examples to back his claim that the term “Allah” was used in a godly and non-godly sense.

According to Mohd Sani, its use was therefore “twisted” into conflicting meanings.

“As a result and influence from this situation, the government and society should carefully calculate its next step.

“Opening space to the misuse of the term ‘Allah’ is the greatest disrespect to the word and a violation of the Malay language [on] grounds that there are two spellings, that is ‘allah’ and ‘Allah’, is not a satisfactory excuse,” he said.

Mohd Sani insisted that the issue had persisted because it was a provocative issue planned to stir the anger of Muslims.

“The term ‘Allah’ is a term of respect for Muslims and the court action has spread the perception that Muslims are oppressive, certainly it will raise the anger of the Muslim community,” he said.

Distributor ordered to black out Economist, says ministry

The government has censored sections of an article in The Economist magazine about a mass rally for electoral reform because of "incorrect information", a Home Ministry official said today.

Abdul Aziz Mohamad Nor, head of the publication unit in the Home Ministry, which is responsible for internal security told AFP that the magazine's local distributor was directed to black out parts of a story in the July 16 edition.

"When we do that (remove sections) we consider that part of the article (in the July 16 edition) had not been proven correct yet," he told AFP.''
NONEThe censored parts in the article, entitled 'Taken to the cleaners', refer to the death of a man during the July 9 protest and to the police crackdown on the rally.

Police say the man died of a heart attack, while his family claim he collapsed after running away from tear gas.
Abdul Aziz said the decision was reached after 
consultation with the police, adding that the home minister had powers to censor publications which are "likely to be prejudicial to public order... or likely to alarm public opinion."

Grace Hahn, Asia-Pacific circulation and group marketing director of The Economist Group, said in an email to AFP that the censorship "was not of our own doing." She declined to comment further.

NONEThe protest, which saw more than 10,000 people take to the streets to call for electoral reform, has raised the ire of the government, who said the rally was an opposition ploy to tarnish the country's moderate image.

Government leaders have backed the police, who crushed the protest with tear gas and water canon and arrested more than 1,700 people, for their actions saying it prevented further chaos.

The opposition-backed rally was organised by an electoral reform group calling for, among other things, longer campaign periods and an end to vote buying ahead of the next elections widely expected to be held by next year.

Mainstream media is largely government-linked and controlled through printing permits, but online news portals and blogs, which are not subject to any permits, have flourished.

It is not the first time The Economist has run-up against state censors.

In May, the magazine accused India of hostile censorship after officials insisted that a map be covered up as it showed disputed borders in Kashmir.


Inflation hits 27-month high

KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — Malaysia’s inflation rate rose to a 27-month high of 3.5 per cent in June, driven by higher food and transport prices.

The government cut back on food and fuel subsidies in recent months in a bid to trim its ballooning budget deficit, which was 5.6 per cent of GDP last year.

The rising inflation rate could put additional pressure on Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) to raise its benchmark interest rate later this year.

Most economists polled by Reuters expect the central bank to raise key interest rates by at least 25 points at its next policy meeting in September after maintaining the benchmark overnight policy rate (OPR) at three per cent earlier this month.

Forecast economist Radhika Rao told the news agency that higher transport prices, power tariff increases and strong domestic demand suggest that inflation will continue to trend upwards in coming months.

“Added to the mix are the upcoming Ramadan festivities, with the BNM likely to walk a tight rope yet again at the September meet,” she said.

DBS Bank economist Irvin Seah said last month’s inflation figures will serve as a reminder to policymakers that the fight against inflation is not over despite rising risks to growth.

“Although we believe that the longer-term cost arising from high inflation will outweigh the near-term risk to growth, we do recognise that Malaysia is coming to the end of its interest rate normalisation,” he told Reuters.

But he added that BNM, which began normalising interest rates earlier than many central banks in the region, will likely have “room to pause” and assess the situation before deciding on the next course of action.

“Growth momentum should re-accelerate in the second half of the year on the back of a gradual recovery in the US and resilient economic outlook in the region,” he said.

“Inflation may rear its head again and a negative real policy rate is probably the last thing needed.”

Orang Ulu natives may become squatters

KUCHING: The homes of the Orang Ulu natives comprising Kayan, Kenyah, Berawan, Kelabit and Penan may one day be submerged under water or their ancestral lands taken away from them.

Community activist Charles Gau warns that if this happens the natives will have to live as squatters in towns like Miri.

The natives longhouses and land will be submerged if the proposed Baram dam materialises and Gau said the only way to stop construction of the dam is for the elected representatives to speak up.

In an open letter to the Baram MP Jacob Sagan and the state assemblyman for Telang Usan Dennis Ngau, Gaus asked : “Who will be blamed for this blunder later on?”

A copy of the letter was extended to FMT.

On the current perimeter survey programme of their native customary rights (NCR) lands, Gau said that the problems faced by the people are that they cannot determine whether their NCR lands were created before Jan 1, 1958 or after.

“If they cannot ascertain the status of their lands, then the lands will be taken by the government. What will be left behind are lands surrounding the longhouses and the villages which are usually situated near rivers.
“Not many people are aware that longhouses and villages built on marine reserves are illegal,” he said, and asked the status of longhouses and villages built along Baram, Tutoh-Apoh and Tinjar rivers.

Gau said that the people will be thankful to the two elected representatives if they can help stop the construction of the Baram dam.

He said that even though the two elected representatives have won in the previous elections, but if they cannot do anything about the dam, they will not get any votes from the natives whose lands and longhouses will be affected by the dam.

On the many promises made by the former assemblyman (Lihan Jok), Gau asked what had happened to the projects such as mini-dam at Long Seminyang, mini-dam at Long San, and perimeter survey of land at Long Banyok.

These projects were worth hundreds of thousands of ringgit, he said and asked: “Where have they gone?
“Instead of these projects, what we have now are water tanks to collect rain water ,” he said.

Bersih rally was 1Malaysia in action

EYEWITNESS There's light at the end of the tunnel and it is not from an on-coming train.

Malaysians are slowly but surely emerging from the dark hole that we have been in for well over 40 years. I am once again confident of our country's future; recent events have convinced me of this.

NONEI would be the first to admit that I have often doubted the resolve of Malaysians in the face of repression and abuse of power by its authorities. I look at Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, even Myanmar, and wonder at the courage of their citizens who fight for change against almost insurmountable odds.

Then I look at ourselves and wonder why we seem so useless. Or perhaps we are not really useless - perhaps we are just a little more patient. However, 40 years of abuse of power will wear away even the patience of a saint. Today, July 9, that patience has evaporated.

Bersih 2.0 rally day

No one seems to know what was going on. One minute it was reported that the police had given a permit for a rally at Stadium Merdeka and an hour later, the news was that no permit had been given. This was exactly the problem faced when relying on the Internet, text-messages and emails that were the only alternatives to the mainstream media, which people now trusted less and less.

NONEUpon ringing up my contacts, I was put in touch with someone who told me to meet up at a restaurant in Brickfields at 11.30am. By that time, the police presence was already noticeable in Little India. As I entered the restaurant, a familiar voice called out my name.

In the dim light, I could only make out a set of flashing teeth. When my eyes finally adjusted to the light, I realised that it was M Kulasegaran, the MP for my constituency, Ipoh Barat. The ex-Perak speaker V Sivakumar and Selangor exco Charles Santiago were also present, along with other opposition assemblymen and MPs.

From the restaurant, we moved to Fatima Church, which is around the corner. It was decided that the church offered a safe sanctuary. Those who knew the terrain planned the route which we would take to Stadium Merdeka. We were to take the side streets and lanes as the main roads were blocked.

On the way, we stopped at the Temple of Fine Arts, which was a vegetarian restaurant of apparently fine repute. However, the management was not exactly welcoming. The police followed us - in plainclothes and uniform. They waited on the other side of the road.

NONEIt was suggested that we move off in twos and threes to our destination. Some decided to have lunch at the Temple before the main event. Kula (left) opined he could protest louder on a full stomach. I preferred an empty tummy, in case I had to run; but the restaurant would not admit me because I was inappropriately attired.

A stranger from out of town, I followed the general flow of pedestrian traffic. By this time, I was on my own, safe in the knowledge that I alone did not constitute an illegal assembly and therefore should not attract unwanted attention. In Malaysia, a gathering of five or more constitutes an illegal gathering.

Menacing sight

As I got nearer to the stadium, the flow of people got larger. It was now not only Indians (who I had followed from Brickfields), but also Chinese and Malays. Before long, the trickle of people turned into a flood and the crowd swelled by the thousands.

There were the young - well prepared with scarves, bottles of water and salt. And there were the old - less prepared but equally determined. There were middle-aged women and men.
NONEI was particularly impressed by a phalanx of Malay girls in full tudung and masks. They were well drilled and marched as a disciplined group to the front of the demonstration. There were also Red Crescent girls who stood by to offer first aid if needed.

We marched as one, shouting “Hidup Bersih”, “Hidup Rakyat”, with clenched fists pumping up and down. A white-haired Chinese lady confessed to me that she did not really understand what was being shouted but she made her quota of noise anyway.

The stragglers were encouraged to catch up by a diminutive old man earing a haji cap who was blowing his whistle and waving everyone forward. They swept to the front, compacting the already dense sea of angry protestors. Someone started singing 'Negara Ku', and this was taken up by the crowd. I have never been so proud as I stood tall with my fellow Malaysians, rededicating ourselves to 'hidup bersatu dan maju'.

NONEThe tear gas and water cannons had not started but there were already many teary eyes, mine included. After a standstill during the national anthem, we moved forward again. The police were now in sight, rows and rows of them backed by a red water cannon truck.

Thirty metres of asphalt separated them from us. They were silent and menacing; we were chanting “Reformasi”, “Hidup Bersih” and “Hidup Rakyat”, fists punching the air in defiance.

Then the water cannon advanced and the crowd surged back, many running helter-skelter. I decided that it was not a problem as long as we stood out of range and encouraged others to stand their ground. The others, upon seeing that we were not drenched, came back.

Before long, the water cannon ran out of water and the crowd surged forward again, now much braver, taunting the police. After a refill, the water cannon came back again and we moved back out of range. This cat-and-mouse game went on for a while, and then the police fired tear gas into the crowd.

We ran but could we could not escape the tear gas. It stung our eyes and we choked. Out came the salt and wet towels. People were passing salt and hand towels around to those who had none but there wasn't enough to go round. I failed chemistry, so I don't know how sodium chloride neutralises the effects of the tear gas, but I know it helped.

The heavens respond

After the pandemonium, we regrouped and once again sang the national anthem to tell the police that we are patriotic and loyal citizens who should not be subjected to such treatment.

From the crowd, a voice cried “Hujan!”, beseeching the heavens to rain upon us, and this was taken up by some. Believe it or not, in the next half hour, it poured cats and dogs. Rain was what we needed for the water cannon and tear gas to have little effect.

God had smiled on us; we felt that nothing could go wrong.

NONEThe rain did more than just stop the tear gas and water cannon. It cooled tempers on both sides. There was a stalemate, and both sides were content to stare at each other, not doing anything to provoke further reaction.

News went around that there had been arrests with other groups - hundreds of them, including the head of Bersih 2.0 as well as some national politicians.

It was apparent then that the rally at the stadium was not to be. The prime minister's promise on this was not worth the breath expended on it. The crowd was angry but resigned to this fact. A half-day's protest had notified the government about the people's sentiments.

NONEOurs was only one group, there were other groups which converged in other parts of KL. To my knowledge, no one was arrested on our side but news filtered through that over 600 others were.

There were no Malays, Chinese or Indians at the demonstration, only Malaysians united by a common cause. This was the true 1Malaysia and not the sham espoused by the government. If this is a glimpse of the future of our country then there are grounds for optimism.

I have always maintained that it is Umno-BN which has divided the people to serve their own interests: the Malays, Chinese and Indians have no quarrel with one another.

I am proud of my fellow Malaysians who, when it counted, overcame race and religion to come together as one.

Hidup Malaysia!