The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been gaining international recognition for Malaysia in the Human Rights arena by speaking out against human rights violations of other nations – albeit selectively – it is a stark contrast to what is practised back home by the Home Ministry. A LoyarBurokker in London reports from the anti-ISA protest there.
50 years of the ISA and police brutality were not compelling enough reasons for Malaysians to signal their dismay outside the Malaysian High Commission in London. Some questioned if it was appropriate and chose instead to attend the talk by the Foreign Minister inside the Embassy – throw tough questions at him and have something to eat after. A few offered to come out and intervene if the situation got heated. Others didn’t think it would come to that.
Peaceful demonstration is sometimes a duty and those who thought so were not surprised when Anifah Aman approached them for a civilised dialogue. He was, after all, in charge of Foreign Affairs and diplomacy is his ministry’s expedient course of action.
While Home Affairs and the Royal Malaysian Police deal in domestic violence, Anifah’s ministry speaks out against human rights abuses perpetrated by other governments. Israel was promptly urged not to take drastic and violent action on the unarmed passengers of the Rachel Corrie. Just two weeks ago, Singapore received a plea for clemency for Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian sentenced to death for drug smuggling. It would seem that member states of the United Nations see the Malaysia Foreign Office as an devoted defender of human rights and so, duly got us elected to the UN Human Rights Council again this year.
As soon as Anifah Aman arrived at the Malaysian High Commission, he walked across the road to an assembly of concerned Malaysian citizens protesting against the police violence and arrests that marred peaceful candlelight vigils in Malaysia to observe the 50th year of the ISA.
Accompanied by aides and reporters from the NST and Malay Mail, the Foreign Minister broke the ice by saying “Hi” to the organiser. He explained the delays behind the parliamentary debates on the amendments to the ISA and iterated that the law would not be repealed. In the dialogue with the concerned citizens, only Anifah Aman spoke without any interjections from the Malaysian Ambassador or anyone from his delegation who crossed the threshold behind their leader. The opening gambit is commendable, the same format should be approved by Hishamuddin Hussein for home use.
In an article posted on Aliran, an observer noted :
Following a twenty minute discussion, the demonstrators closed by thanking Anifah for his efforts at open engagement but asked that a clear message be taken back to the Prime Minister and his government; that as Malaysia gains international recognition and prominence on the world stage – this recognition must be for the right reasons.
The Messenger would turn Advocate when he later surprised those waiting inside the Embassy that he would quit if his government were to silence public dissent. Before an audience of 100 people, the Foreign Minister repeated he would guarantee that Malaysians protesting outside would not be arrested, detained or questioned when they return to Malaysia.
Meanwhile, a virtual Abdul Razak Baginda (‘serious academic’, UK-resident, you-know-who) announced on Twitter that he advised the Minister to “make empty promises. mana tau, he actually promised he would quit if BN abused law to stop protests”.
Due credit may be given to the Foreign Minister who would follow in the footsteps of Zaid Ibrahim who resigned from his post as Law Minister when the ISA was abused under his watch. It remains to be seen if accountability will be a hard act to follow.
As it was a night where free speech was allowed a wide berth, the dismayed and un-verified Abdul Razak Baginda, can only be cajoled into treating Malaysian policy matters with the same standard of ethics as he employs in his work as a “serious academic .”
The responsibility now lies with the NST and Malay Mail reporters who followed Anifah Aman back into the Embassy. Their dispatches are eagerly-awaited as their objective reporting would be a fitting albeit a small tribute to human rights advocates in and out of Malaysia as well as those who are part-of and not-of the establishment. A departure from the expected editorial standard would only serve as a sobering reminder of censorship and the subscription basis of universal human rights.
LB: See-See is a Malaysian currently living in London. Once a year, she and fellow organisers screen documentaries about Malaysian human rights and political issues under the banner of the Freedom Film Fest of Malaysia. She works as a software architect.
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