Mary Robinson, the head of the UN Commission for Human Rights recently told the Malaysian Foreign Minister, Syed Hamid Albar that she was concerned that Anwar Ibrahim, the ex-deputy prime minister of Malaysia who is now serving a lengthy jail term, was not receiving proper medical attention while in prison. What a load of rubbish.
Convicted for sex-related crimes, and subsequently jailed for a 15-year term, Anwar Ibrahim's fall from grace has been spectacular. From Prime Minister-heir-to-be to a jail cell is a long way down to go. He claims that he was set up by the Malaysian government in general, and the Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamed in particular. The Prime Minister claims that Anwar is “unfit” to lead the nation; in a deeply religious Islamic country such as Malaysia, being branded and subsequently convicted as a sodomiser engaging is homosexual acts is a sure-fire way to commit political suicide. Between the two, whoever is right, that may never be conclusively be known from a purely objective perspective – sentiments on both sides run high, with each believing in their respective cases.
But some facts do remain through the whole mess. Among them is that Anwar was severely beaten up while in prison by the then chief of police, Abdul Rahim Noor. Visibly bruised, his mashed up face now adorns thousands of stickers, pamphlets and posters nationwide as a symbolic rallying cry against the alleged corruption that pollutes the country’s politics. Another undeniable fact lies in his current physical condition. Anwar claims that the pain and suffering that he’s in now due to spinal and back problems was directly caused by the beating he received nearly 3 years ago. Whether or not the cause of his injury is as he claims, the fact remains that he’s been bedridden for months on end in a local hospital.
He shall be healed
As is the right of any person suffering from illness or injury, even if that person is currently serving a jail term, he wants to find some way to treat his pain. Towards this end, he’s brought in a specialist from Germany, a certain Dr. Thomas Hoogland who says that Anwar requires surgery to correct his injury. By his own admission, the procedure is minimally invasive without the need for general anesthesia. But, he adds, the equipment and staff available to him in Malaysia to perform the surgery are inadequate and he proposes that the procedure be carried out in Germany.
Do you smell a rat?
Of course, the Malaysian government is resisting this proposal as it looks like a convenient setup to try and get Anwar out of the country to a place where he can seek political asylum. In an attempt to accommodate Anwar’s needs, the Government has offered to allow all the equipment to be flown in, together with all the specialized staff that Dr. Hoogland may need. And, yet, Anwar’s camp, led by his dedicated wife, Wan Azizah cries foul before continuing to brand the government as an inhumane body that is denying her husband the treatment that he needs.
But let’s put everything in perspective – even with all the protests to the contrary, the Malaysian government has bent over backwards to accommodate Anwar’s needs. He has his own cell in the prison where he is incarcerated. A rare privilege in an overcrowded prison system. During his jail term, he is allowed almost unlimited access to his family and relatives – most other inmates are only allowed visits by their family members just a few times a month. While he has been in hospital (for quite some time now), he has just about every comfort and luxury available to him from his hospital bed – good food, virtually unlimited visitation rights (even his political allies are allowed to visit him now) and a superb panel of some of Malaysia’s best doctors looking after his welfare. How many other prisoners, nay forget that, how many other MALAYSIANS can claim to be treated so well by the Government when they are sick?
And still he complains.
Malaysian prison rules are very clear when it comes to prisoners being allowed to leave a country even if for medical reasons: they cannot. So many exceptions have already been made for Anwar, probably because of his previous status as well as the Malaysian government’s fear that a heavy handed approach in his case will bring the wrath of the international community. But in this particular scenario, allowing Anwar to have his own way would be just a little too much – if indeed Anwar was going to use his injury as an escape route, the Government would stand to lose it’s credibility as a governing institution. Ask any government in the world whether they would take risks that would lead to a similar loss of credibility, and 100% of them would say no. The Malaysian Government has been very reasonable in handling Anwar’s incarceration and his subsequent injury; for the world to think otherwise is unfair.
Appearing on www.renungan.com 26 March 2001