16 April 2014

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TMMO

Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim should have taken a tougher stance and intervened in the bible seizure row to ensure a fairer outcome for Muslims and Christians in the state, Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said today.

The PKR advisor said the Khalid administration could have returned the 300 Malay language bibles confiscated by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) in January to the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) with the condition that they were not distributed to Muslims.

“The MB should have taken a tougher stance..the state government must take measures to appease the situation. You could return the bibles but give a strong condition that the bible cannot be distributed to Muslims,” Anwar told a press conference here.

He said that as Mentri Besar, Khalid should have acted firmer in protecting both Muslim and non-Muslim rights in the country.

Yesterday BSM announced its decision to relocate its headquarters from Selangor to Kuala Lumpur, citing its disappointment with the state government’s decision not to interfere in the seizure of its bibles.

BSM president Lee Min Choon said the federal government has given “better protection” to the society’s operations, and has even upheld the Cabinet’s 10-point solution to the “Allah” row by allowing free movement of its bible shipments.

Selangor, on the other hand, has continued to refuse to help the society recover the over 300 Malay and Iban language bibles that were seized by the state’s religious authorities earlier this year, Lee said.

16 April 2014

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TMI

PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim today criticised the Prime Minister for manipulating his statement of solving the MH370 crisis in a second.

Anwar (pic, right) said Datuk Seri Najib Razak was swift in retorting his statement but did not display such agility in handling the MH370 crisis.

“Najib did not answer the issues which have arisen due to the disappearance of MH370,” Anwar told a press conference today.

“But he appears to be nimble when replying to my claim that the tragedy could be resolved in a second.”

Anwar explained that the remark, which was translated from the Chinese language, was completely different to what had been reported by the media.

“In the original Chinese language text, I said it would take a second to carry out the necessary enforcement to guarantee national security,” he said.

He then denied issuing any statement that he would resolve the MH370 crisis in a second if he was prime minister.

“Najib twisted my statement and lied by misinterpreting my statement,” Anwar said.

Ever since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 with 12 crew members and 227 passengers, Najib has not taken any questions from the media.

“Instead, Najib preferred to hand over the responsibility to his cousin, acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein,” Anwar said.

14 April 2014

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Malaysiakini

The grand self-proclamation of “Malaysia, the Best Democracy in the World”, with its fantastic education system which rivals the British, American and German systems is a myth designed for die-hard Umno Baru supporters. This fairy-tale was shattered by the disappearance of MH370.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, like the prime ministers before him, has let down the nation, but the investigation into MH370 has trashed Malaysia’s reputation.

We need a cull of the political class to regain our credibility as a nation. We should start with the following initiates of the ‘Hall of Shame’. Politicians head the list, then civil servants. If the civil servants were to be replaced before the politicians, the new ones would be corrupted by their political masters, who dictate to them.

Malaysia has been on auto-pilot for several decades and the nation has been performing like a rudderless aeroplane. MH370 signals the beginning of the end of Umno Baru.

The Malaysian Hall of Shame

Number One: Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. Two words describe the MH370 “investigations”: Mismanaged. Mishandled. (MM).

MH370 may have been an unprecedented incident but the crisis management team was shambolic, with several people issuing contradictory official statements. Our confidence and trust has been shaken to the core despite all the big talk and the hundreds of billions of ringgits spent on military hardware and sophisticated equipment. We may have the best machinery that money can buy, but are monkeys operating them?

In the first few days of MH370’s disappearance, Najib and his wife, the self-styled ‘First Lady of Malaysia’ (FLOM), sought to gain cheap publicity by “weeping with the families of the passengers and crew of MH370”.

Did Najib make a premature announcement that MH370 had crashed into the Southern Indian Ocean, based on one mathematical interpretation by one company? The local press are conditioned not to ask awkward questions but foreign journalists demand answers.

Number Two:Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. Hishammuddin (left in photo) justified Malaysia’s mismanagement of the MH370 investigations by saying that history will judge Malaysia well.

People ask, “Who writes the history books if not the Malaysian cabinet and their proteges?”
Hishammuddiin told the families of passengers and crew of MH370 that miracles do happen. The act of giving false hope is as bad as trading on people’s grief.

Number Three: Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. His response to the stolen passport fiasco at KLIA is symptomatic of a sick nation. He told parliament, “Furthermore, Interpol’s information of lost (passports) may slow down the process of immigration checks at counters.”

Zahid prefers speed to efficiency and safety/security concerns. Interpol has since given Zahid a dressing down and said the checks take 0.2 seconds per passport.

Malaysia is a hub for human trafficking and people have alleged that our police and immigration officials are involved. Will Zahid clean up his department?

Number Four: Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri. Abdul Rahim told Parliament that the RMAF “assumed” that Flight MH370 had been ordered to turn back by the civilian air traffic controllers.

Following a public outcry, he backpedalled and said that HE had made this assumption. So did the RMAF make this assumption or was Abdul Rahim forced to retract his statement. His U-turn is typical of the tactics of the government of Malaysia.

Lack of communication

Number Five: The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman. Azharuddin contradicted the statements of the home ministry and the inspector-general of polcie (IGP). More worrying than this is the lack of communication between the military and civil aviation authorities.

The MH370 investigation has lacked transparency and is mired in intrigue. This incident has reminded us of the question, by the opposition MP Nurul Izzah Anwar in June 2012, about the roles of the DCA and the Transport Ministry in the award of the contract for the supply of the RM128.4 million air traffic control system to a minster’s family through “closed tender”.

Three weeks ago, we were told that the final words from the cockpit were “All right, good night”. In the past few days, the DCA issued a correction and said the final words were “Good night. Malaysian Three-Seven-Zero”.

How can the public be expected to put their faith in the DCA or the investigative bodies with such a simple error as this? So what else is wrong?

Number Six: MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya. When the reputations of the pilot and co-pilot on MH370 were being trashed, Ahmad Jauhari (right) failed to defend his men. Although he did speak on their behalf, he waited several days and the damage was already done. His failure to act immediately demoralised all of the MAS employees.

The sending of a text message to the families of the passengers and crew of MH370, ahead of Najib’s announcement that MH370 had gone down in the southern Indian Ocean, is symptomatic of the poor customer relations in MAS. Many people have previously stated that their complaints are rarely acknowledged or addressed.

Number Seven: Chief of the Armed Forces Zulkifeli Mohd Zin. He despatched ships from Lumut on the night MH370 disappeared. He then claimed that a C-130 plane was sent to scout the area the following morning.

What made Zulkifeli confident that he was scouring a potential crash site, thousands of kilometres from where Najib had directed others in the search and rescue (SAR) operations? Is Zulkifeli hiding something from us?

Number Eight: Chief of the RMAF Rodzali Daud. An unidentified plane was picked up by military radar around 200 nautical miles northwest of Penang in the Straits of Malacca, at about the time MH370 went missing. The military failed to act on this information, wasting both time and opportunity.

Number Nine: IGP Khalid Abu Bakar. When asked about the contradictory descriptions of the men using stolen passports, a dismissive Khalid said, “Why ask me? Ask Immigration, or ask Interpol.”

The defence minister asked everyone to avoid speculation, but Khalid said that his policemen were analysing all the speculation on the Internet to help in the MH370 investigations.

The IGP should focus on facts, rather than investigating speculation and rumour. He should chase criminals, rather than hound opposition politicians and NGOs.

Number Ten: Witch-doctor Ibrahim Mat Zain, or Raja Bomoh. This shaman heaped ridicule on the country when, at the entrance to KLIA, he used his bamboo binoculars and two coconuts to divine that MH370 had been hijacked by elves and the plane was either suspended in mid-air or had crashed into the sea. He should be jailed if he refuses to say who sent him to KLIA, to mock the suffering of the passengers and crew of MH370.

Bonus: It is reported that Najib’s favourite number is 11. When former PM Mahathir Mohamad resigned, he continued to make his presence felt by refusing to hand over the controls of the airship Malaysia, which he was flying to mediocrity. Mahathir completes the list by being the eleventh member of Malaysia’s Hall of Shame.

14 April 2014

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Aliran

Irene’s true grit triumphed over a false accusation

She was initially accused of peddling false news when she tried to protect and promote the collective welfare of migrant workers and the downtrodden.

Dragged for years in court, the late Irene Fernandez nonetheless was steadfast in her determination to champion the cause of the neglected. In fact, she spent decades via her NGO Tenaganita, which she spearheaded, to fight for the rights of the oppressed whose dignity as humans were trampled by employers and others who didn’t care two hoots about human rights.

The Malaysian government may not want to recognise, let alone appreciate, Irene’stireless work. But concerned Malaysians and civil society have duly paid glowing tributeto this towering Malaysian. Her liberating spirit and noble values will indeed live on especially when the rights of workers are still being violated in our society.

Such violations demand the attention and action of civil society groups and thosewho are dedicated to improving the welfare of workers. It is no wonder that over 50civil society groups have come together to protest against workers’ rights violationsand the disciplinary action taken by the management of the much-troubled MAS against the secretary-general of the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (Nufam) and 30 other members.

Likewise, some civil society groups have expressed solidarity with Major Zaidi Ahmad of the Royal Malaysian Air Force who is now facing legal action for doing what a conscientious Malaysian is expected to do. Like the late Irene Fernandez, Zaidi found himself in trouble with the powers that be for speaking truth to power. Obviously this doesn’t speak well of the Najib administration, which once boasted of a Malaysia being the best democracy in the world.

Denial of press freedom

That brazen claim (being ‘the best democracy’) is indeed indefensible. In fact, this assertion becomes all the more untenable when press freedom is once again violated by the federal government. Recently, the Home Ministry denied publishing permits for the print editions of Malaysiakini and FZ Daily. The minister concerned was apparently concerned that ‘too many’ newspapers in our midst would confuse ordinary Malaysians who are exposed to too much information.

Such a paternalistic and patronising attitude is certainly misplaced and unfortunate given that Malaysians in general are able to think for themselves. They certainly deserve a wide range of opinions about particular issues before they make their informed judgement. At the very least, they are not confused and know how to discern which politicians make imbecile remarks and which ones make perfect sense.

Concerned Malaysians are also not confused when they bear witness to a hate-mongering mob out to create trouble. But they ARE disturbed when the powers that be, otherwise ever so often mindful of actions that could purportedly jeopardise ‘political stability’ and ‘national unity’, refuse to take action against these trouble-making hate-spewing groups.

One person who does appear to get easily confused is Ibrahim Ali (or those of his lk),who often acts as if his faith is quite brittle.

In the meantime, ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad seems to have overcome his oft-shaky memory when he admitted he was actually in the country on 19 November 1985 during the terrible and bloody Memali incident, which has yet to achieve closure.

14 April 2014

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Buat rakyat Malaysia yang berketurunan Tamil, saya ucapkan kepada anda sekeluarga “Iniya Chitterai Puthandu Naal Valthukal

Tidak dilupakan juga buat masyarakat Sikh yang meraikan hari Vaisakhi. Gagasan hari Vaisakhi yang menyeru kepada persahabatan dan pemahaman bersama sewajarnya terus diterapkan terutamanya dalam merealisasikan negara Malaysia yang lebih bersatupadu.

Anwar Ibrahim

10 April 2014

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bloombergview

President Barack Obama always knew his Asia tour later this month would be fraught with political landmines. The two nations that lead off his itinerary — U.S. allies Japan and South Korea — have been squabbling for more than a year over World War II history. Another, the Philippines, is one of Asia’s economic bright spots even as President Benigno Aquino’s government is locked into a dangerous maritime territorial spat with China — a country Obama would rather not antagonize.

But most problematic of all may be Obama’s time in Malaysia. Obama’s visit — the first by a U.S. leader to Kuala Lumpur in 50 years — was meant to celebrate a nation viewed as a high-tech hub of moderate Islam and a democratic contrast to China. Six months ago, Obama hailed Malaysia as “an example of a dynamic economy” and touted its multiethnic society as a model to others. Today, amid the global outcry over the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, such praise sounds naive. The past month has highlighted Malaysia’s deepest flaws, and all-too-few of its strengths.

The international press has pilloried Prime Minister Najib Razak‘s government for its initial response to the crisis, which was marred by conflicting information, poor coordination with neighboring countries, defensiveness, and an apparent lack of transparency. Fairly or not, since March 8 when Flight 370 disappeared on its way to Beijing, Malaysia has lost a great deal of its standing both in the region and around the world.

At the same time, Najib’s government has been clamping down on internal political dissent. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim once again faces the specter of jail on sodomy charges; Karpal Singh, chairman of the Democratic Action Party, is defending himself against sedition allegations. Local media outlets critical of Najib are on the defensive. The government has by contrast been silent on efforts by Islamic conservatives to limit who can use the word “Allah” — a campaign that has eroded Malaysia’s reputation for religious tolerance.

What can Najib’s government do, post-Flight 370, to improve its image at home and abroad? This isn’t a mere PR challenge. The country needs nothing less than a political revolution.

The Flight 370 crisis has fully exposed the dangers of allowing one party to rule a nation for six decades. Since rising to the top job in 2009, Najib has had to divert his attention from revitalizing Malaysia’s economy to maintaining the United Malays National Organization’s long hold on power. It’s a full-time job: For years populist handouts, gerrymandered districts, and political arrests secured the party comfortable majorities, but in last year’s election the ruling coalition lost the popular vote for the first time. Its ethnically Malay, largely rural base is dwindling.

Early on, Najib thrilled global investors by hinting that he would scrap his party’s 40-year-old affirmative-action policies, which favor Malays. But UMNO’s troubles prompted Najib to expand rather than eliminate such apartheid economics.

These affirmative-action policies stifle innovation and drive away investment. They disenfranchise the country’s Indian and Chinese minorities, forcing many of them to seek their fortunes overseas. Malaysia is blessed with enviable natural resources. But it is willfully squandering its equally enviable human capital.

The longer Malaysia sticks with the racial preferences, the more graft andopacity will worsen and undermine growth. The only way to unshackle the economy — which should be performing a lot more like South Korea than Vietnam — is to end such policies.

Najib could start by announcing specific targets and dates to scrap Malay-friendly quotas on hiring, preferential treatment for government contracts, and perks involving everything from education to housing. Civil-service and Cabinet appointments should be about ability and nothing else — not race, not sex, not age. Until and unless every lawmaker, ministry and government-linked corporation realizes they will have to answer for their actions and failings, the trust gap between Malaysians and their government will only widen.

Ending affirmative action would increase accountability and transparency within the government and the economy. It would bolster international confidence. The government’s handling of Flight 370 was no fluke. The fumbling exposed a political elite that’s never really had to face questioning from its people, never mind the rest of the world. That same political culture created and coddled national carrier Malaysia Airlines. Not surprisingly, even before this, the airline had fared poorly against peers amid growing global competition.

Six months ago, Obama could praise “Malaysia’s diversity, tolerance and progress” and “dynamic economy” as “a model to countries around the world.” The president’s speechwriters will have a hard time coming up with compliments that sound credible this time. Najib has the power to change that — if he has the courage.

7 April 2014

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The Telegraph

Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, tells The Telegraph that country’s “sophisticated” radar would have detected the plane

The Malaysian opposition politician, Anwar Ibrahim, tells the Telegraph that he finds the Malaysian authorities lack of progress in finding missing flight MH370 “baffling”.

He says that Malaysia now needs to gather an international committee to salvage its reputation.

“To save the image of the country and to save the country, the Malaysian authorities should say by now we must have an international committee representing various countries and operations

“I believe the government know more than us. They have the authority to instruct the air force… or Malaysia Airlines. They are privy to most of these missing bits of information critical to our understanding of this mysterious disappearance of MH370.”

 

1 April 2014

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By Anwar Ibrahim, Opposition Leader on MH002 enroute to London

 

“The bedrock of our democracy is the rule of law and that means we have to have an independent judiciary, judges who can make decisions independent of the political winds that are blowing.- Caroline Kennedy

 
Talking about political winds, it appears that lately, the Malaysian judiciary, particularly the judges of the superior courts, are caught in the whirlwind and are frantically racing against each other to please the powers that be of the day.

In the frenzy to curry favours from their political overlords, these minions have stopped at nothing to ensure that they will be the first to reach the finish line. Pots of gold await the backscratchers and lackeys. And where financial gratification may appear a tad blatant, there’s always elevation to the higher rungs of office to whet the appetite. Unlike Parliamentarians, judges will never be content to be Back Benchers. The preferred place is the front and the top where they can tower over ordinary mortals, even if they be law-makers or members of the Bar. They fear no one except their political masters because they know on which side their bread is buttered. And they shall not bite the hand that feeds.

Throwing judicial decorum to the wind, they bare their fangs and sharpen their claws in order to cow supplicants in their courts into submission, and in the process, their demeanour and conduct leaves no one in doubt about their bias. And though they know that an adversarial system dictates that judges must not just act impartially but must be seen to be so, they bend backwards to don the hats of prosecutor and executioner as well. When this happens, as indeed it is happening now with unprecedented frequency, we know justice has gone to the dogs.

It is happening because Prime Minister Najib Razak, in flagrant abuse of power, has launched a new campaign of political persecution. “Even if we can’t defeat them at the polls, all is not lost (remember Altantuya?). We still have our judges to do our bidding. See how they fall over each other at the snap of our fingers!”

This is the alarming trend in our judiciary where judges work hand in glove with the Attorney-General’s Chambers to deny leaders of the Federal Opposition, duly elected representatives of the people in Parliament, their right to justice. In taking this unconstitutional and nefarious line, they have turned the doctrine of the separation of powers on its head.

Hence, apart from me, MPs Karpal Singh, Azmin Ali, Antony Loke, Rafizi Ramli, Tian Chua, Syed Azman and Shamsul Iskandar just to name a few, are marked for the judicial abattoir by the executioners. It may be sodomy, it may be sedition, or it may be illegal assembly, or whatever. These bootlickers know less of law and the principles of justice than lording over the courts parading proudly as peacocks (and peahens) their colourful judicial plumage overflowing with the arrogance of power.

As for those judges who used to sit on the throne, there is still life after retirement. The involvement of former Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad in the National Unity Front, closely linked to Perkasa, Malaysia’s icon of racism, while not shocking remains scandalous. It makes a mockery of the institution of the judiciary which he once headed and contradicts the principles of equality, equity and justice that the judiciary is supposed to stand for. Is it conceivable for a former chief judge to head an organisation that is adamantly opposed to the National Unity Consultative Council, and to be notoriously engaged in race-baiting and the trumpeting of the superiority of one race over other races in our multi-racial and multi-religious country?

It would appear that it is not only conceivable but that it is lauded with much fanfare by UMNO going by the prominent coverage given to it by the UMNO controlled media.

Incidentally, this is the same judge who, in his Federal court judgement, had written that “the court’s decision must only be based on the evidence adduced and nothing else and (hence) it had to acquit because of lack of evidence,” but qualified it with the illogical and manifestly asinine statement that “we find evidence to confirm that the appellants were involved in homosexual activities”. In other words, “we find him NOT guilty but at the same time guilty”. Anything more stupid, perverse and farcical than that cannot be found in our judicial annals (no pun intended) except for the judgements and pronouncements of Augustine Paul and Ariffin Jaka in respect of Sodomy 1 and the current decisions in respect of the application for expunging and the Sodomy 2 appeal. As they say, it has to take one stupid, perverse and farcical court to agree with another stupid, perverse and farcical court.

UMNO must fight its own political battles and not be such a coward to use the judiciary to help them fight the Opposition. How long more are our judges going to dance to tune of UMNO? When will they stop becoming stooges and lap dogs of UMNO leaders? How long more must the rakyat endure this sham? Who are the puppeteers in this shadow play? Are these judges not aware that UMNO will not be there forever to cover their tracks, or their backs, or that not only will history judge them, but that the rakyat are not going to sit idly by – forever – while they continue to pervert the course of justice?

Parliament, as the vox populi, must make its voice heard before we reach the tipping point and the situation gets out of our hands. There is a tide in our affairs which, unless we seize it, will see our voyage for democracy and rule of law in shallows and in miseries. This is the rising tide of judicial impropriety, arrogance of power and transgression. As one of the three branches of government, Parliament must reassert the sanctity of the separation of powers principle. It is therefore morally incumbent and constitutionally expedient that Parliament acts accordingly to break up the illegal and unconstitutional collusion between the Executive and the Judiciary.

Anwar Ibrahim

1st April 2014

31 March 2014

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In the most farcical and disgraceful trial in modern history, the
Egyptian military junta under Dictator General al-Sisi, on Monday
sentenced to death 529 leaders and politicians of the Muslim
Brotherhood.

Most of the countries in the Arab world, with the notable exception of
Qatar, have neither lifted a finger nor said a word of protest against
this even as the EU and the USA have at least expressed some token
regret. Shamefully, the speaker of the Malaysian Parliament, no doubt
taking orders from the Najib administration, refused to allow the
matter to be debated in spite of vehement demands from the Opposition.

Following the military coup by al-Sisi and the scandalous sacking and
arrest of democratically elected President Morsi, Egypt has gone from being the darling of the Arab Spring to undisputed pariah state of the free world.

This latest act in a series of illegal, unconstitutional and morally
despicable acts by the military junta since the power grab underscores
the diabolical nature of the new Egyptian government set up
purportedly to restore “justice, freedom and democracy” that was
alleged to have been eroded under the administration of duly-elected
President Morsi.

On the contrary, the new regime has demonstrated beyond the shadow of
a doubt that it has no qualms about using the organs of state power
such as the army, police and the judiciary to oppress and repress the
Egyptian people. The fundamental liberties and human rights
safeguarded under the Morsi administration are thrown the drain.
Hundreds more political opponents are jailed without trial while
international journalists including three from al-Jazeera, are
detained without due process.

Backed by a well-orchestrated and sustained media campaign to
whitewash its actions, the ruthless regime of al-Sisi has massacred
its own people including women and children and unleashed other
atrocities with complete impunity.

Monday’s verdict to execute 529 opponents of the coup in a summary
trial that lasted less than an hour makes an utter mockery of the
judicial process and leaves no one in doubt that it is justice itself
which has been given the death sentence and that due process has been
sent to the firing squad instead.

The Egyptian people had paved the way for the full blossoming of the
Arab Spring when, with their blood, sweat and tears, they overthrew
Husni Mubarak, ending four decades of military dictatorship. Voted to
power via an internationally recognised electoral process, President
Morsi and law makers from the Brotherhood and other political parties
were slowly but surely steering the country to new directions in the
path of freedom, democracy and justice.

Tragically, the blatant coup last July engineered by al-Sisi, working
hand in glove with corrupt external powers, has turned the clock back.
The military powers that be appear to believe that this latest
crackdown on the Brotherhood, following the earlier outlawing of the
movement, will further weaken them.

In this regard, they are gravely mistaken. History has shown that
people who are pushed to the ground by perverse and prolonged acts of
oppression and injustice will emerge even stronger.

Anwar Ibrahim

31 March 2014

31 March 2014

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Azizah and I mourn the passing of Irene Fernandez, a champion of the weak, the poor and the marginalized, and a fighter of true grit in the face of persecution and constant harassment by the authorities.

This is truly a great loss to the nation and to Keadilan, she being one of co-founders.

Indeed, also a sad personal loss as she had been a close family friend and my colleague since our Malaysian Youth Council days.

Anwar Ibrahim

31 March 2014

27 March 2014

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Foreign Policy

As hundreds of young men are sentenced to death for the killing of one policeman, the state is gearing up to crush its Islamist enemies.

gyptian Judge Saeed Youssef Mohamed presided over the mass trial of 683 people on charges of murder, incitement to violence, and sabotage on March 25 — including Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie — in the southern Egyptian city of Minya. The defense lawyers in the case boycotted the proceedings, but Mohamed demanded that the case go forward anyway.

It’s not hard to see why the defendants might not like their chances. On March 24, Mohamed handed down one of the world’s largest death penalty verdicts ever, ruling that 529 supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi would face the gallows for killing a police officer and attacking a police station last summer.

None of the accused or their lawyers was present on March 24, when Mohamed issued his sentence. The presiding judge in this Upper Egyptian court issued his damning ruling after a trial that lasted just two sessions. The verdict has not only dealt another blow to Egypt’s reputation abroad, but it has shown how far some elements of the state are prepared to go in crushing supporters of the former Islamist government. It is impossible to know whether Mohamed was acting alone or on orders from the central government.

The defendants, many of whom are members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, were accused of jointly murdering Mostafa El-Attar, deputy police commander of the southern town of Matay. The killing occurred on Aug. 14 in the aftermath of the forced dispersals of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo that left hundreds dead.

The 545 people in the mass trial were also charged with attempting to murder two security officers, participating in an illegal rally, and vandalizing public and private property. Only 16 defendants were acquitted.

The news of the mass death sentence sent shock waves across the world. Human Rights Watch referred to the ruling as a “sham,” while Amnesty International’s Middle East deputy director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said it was “the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years.”

Not everyone, however, condemned the ruling. Several figures within pro-government Egyptian media celebrated the expanding crackdown on Morsi supporters. “I salute the fairness and justice of our judiciary in defiance of those killers and all those who attack it,” said Ahmed Moussa, the presenter of a show on a private Egyptian satellite channel. “May they be 10,000 [sentenced to death], 20,000, not 500. We are not sad; we are happy.”

The extraordinary hearings, which began on March 22, were in shambles from the beginning. During the first hearing, 147 defendants were crammed into a courtroom cage that had been specially modified to fit the enormous number of people on trial.

Judge Mohamed yelled at the defense lawyers, accusing them of being disruptive and “discussing politics,” reported Reuters. The defense teams, meanwhile, furiously argued with him in an unsuccessful attempt to get the judge changed.

“We simply couldn’t prepare the court case in time. The case file is 4,000 pages long,” said Ahmed Shabeeb, one of the defendants’ lawyers. “The court didn’t even listen to our request for more time. We couldn’t defend them,” he said.

The hearing lasted just 45 minutes, during which key witnesses were barred from giving their testimonies. The judge then adjourned the session and demanded that the lawyers submit a written defense. “He didn’t even look at the evidence,” Shabeeb said.

Two days later, Mohamed forbade the lawyers from attending the final hearing and issued the verdict to a courtroom of police officers.

The verdict, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that Egypt will actually execute the 529 defendants. The case will next head to the Court of Cassation, which examines whether the legal process of criminal court cases followed the letter of the law. In this case, the procedural errors were so blatant that it is unlikely that the verdict will be upheld, said Karim Ennarah, a criminal researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

But even if the sentence is not carried out, the verdict has propelled Egypt back into international headlines for all the wrong reasons — and has wrecked some tentative signs of improvement in the country’s human rights environment. Prominent secular activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, who has been in jail since December and is on trial for allegedly organizing an illegal protest and assaulting a police officer, was finally released on bail on March 23. Meanwhile, interim President Adly Mansour personally wrote letters to jailed Al Jazeera correspondents Peter Greste and Mohamed Fahmy promising them a free and speedy trial.

This ruling, however, is a sign that some elements within the Egyptian state still favor a drastic escalation of violence against Morsi supporters. Doing so might come at the cost of the rule of law: After the trial’s March 22 opening session, Tarek Fouda, head of the lawyer’s syndicate in Minya, said that the presiding judge had “veered away from all legal norms and that he breached the rights of the defense.”

Fouda promised to submit a report on what had occurred to Egypt’s justice minister. The Justice Ministry was unavailable for comment on the case.

“I think it’s safe to say all 529 people were not involved in collectively killing one police officer. That would be an unprecedented feat of group work,” said Ennarah. He said March 24′s ruling was part of an “alarming” six-month trend of Egyptian courts giving “reckless and brutal rulings to intimidate and terrorize opposition protesters.”

The families of those sentenced, meanwhile, have been thoroughly disillusioned about the state of the judicial process. For them, this is solely a political attack on supporters of the former Islamist government.

“We don’t even consider it a verdict. At first we were surprised by the huge numbers on trial; now we just think it’s nonsense,” said Mohamed Hafez, whose two brothers, Hossam, 30, and Mostafa, 31, both businessmen, were sentenced to death on March 24.

Hafez told Foreign Policy that the investigation actually uncovered proof that his siblings are not in the Muslim Brotherhood — but they were sentenced to death anyway. “Maybe they’re trying to terrify people to stop going to demonstrations or oppose the regime,” he said.

The verdict comes just a few months before Egyptians are supposed to vote for a new president — a critical step in the military-authored “road map to democracy.” But as Egypt’s newest 529 occupants of death row can attest, the country remains a long way from the stability and rule of law that Morsi’s ouster was supposed to usher in.

“This is the largest death penalty in Egypt to the best of my knowledge,” Mohamed Zaree, program manager at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, concluded. “This is not a verdict; it is a massacre.”

27 March 2014

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Foreign Affairs

MH370′s Humbling Reminder About Technology — And Its Operators

The tale of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 evolves by the minute. Most likely it will have changed yet again by the time you finish reading this. But whatever the ultimate solution to the puzzle may be, it is not too early to start asking what it means.

Here are the facts as we understand them at the moment. On March 8, a plane en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing. There was no indication that anything untoward was happening before it stopped communicating with air traffic controllers. Shortly after it went silent, it began to deviate dramatically from its preprogrammed flight path — again, with no indication of trouble. The plane managed to cross the Malay Peninsula and head into the Strait of Malacca without attracting any attention before it disappeared from radar entirely. According to the British firm Inmarsat, the plane was still airborne somewhere along a giant arc stretching from the southeastern Indian Ocean to Kazakhstan more than seven hours after departing from Kuala Lumpur.

One clear lesson, as Jessica Trisko Darden, an assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario, has recently argued, is that the countries of Southeast Asia are incapable of monitoring, let alone controlling, their airspace. They are also poor at mounting a swift, coordinated response to disaster. They excel, however, at blaming each other. This should raise eyebrows in Washington as the United States “pivots” to Asia. Their response illustrates that any cordiality among players in the region is but a thin veneer. It also calls into question the competence and reliability of the very states on which the United States would depend in the event of a serious confrontation with China. Perhaps even more ominously, China’s eagerness to outperform the United States in finding the missing plane would appear to have unseemly geopolitical overtones. It may even reflect Beijing’s sensitivity to domestic legitimacy, in view of the fact that most of the passengers aboard MH370 were Chinese nationals.

But there are larger lessons as well — lessons with more than just regional significance. First, the good news. There is no evidence, and by most expert accounts it is extremely unlikely, that MH370 vanished as a result of malfunction. When vital systems in modern airliners fail, they trigger alarms. Backup systems kick in. Pilots report trouble if they are in radio range. There is no indication that any of this happened. Modern airliners are marvels of engineering, so it is no wonder that the odds of being in a fatal commercial airline accident are a mere 1 in 3.4 million. Fewer than a quarter of the fatal accidents that do occur are the result of mechanical failure. You are safer in an airplane than in a bathtub.

The only onboard systems whose performance is in question at the moment in this case are the transponder, which enables ground operators to identify the aircraft and provides crucial flight information, and the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which monitors system health and automatically relays faults to maintenance bases. These stopped working within minutes of the crew’s final, perfectly routine radio contact with ground controllers on the morning of March 8. It seems increasingly certain that these systems were switched off deliberately.

As far as anyone can tell, all of the ground-based hardware also worked. Primary radars, secondary radars, and radio communications all held up their end of the bargain in trying to maintain contact with MH370. Again, this is what we should expect. The relevant technology is very good, and is getting better all the time. TheHuffington Post notwithstanding, there is no valid comparison between MH370 and Amelia Earhart’s fateful final flight. A Boeing 777 operating in well-monitored airspace today is to Earhart’s plane as the Internet is to smoke signals.

Now, the bad news. Although the mechanical systems seem to have worked well, the human systems failed repeatedly, both at the individual and group levels. For one, if the disappearance of MH370 was deliberate, then existing security measures failed to thwart it. In addition, Malaysian military radar operators failed to notice, misperceived, or wilfully ignored the plane’s radar track as it headed westward. Thai radar operators noticed, but failed to report it because no one askedOther countriesmay have failed to notice or report the plane’s odd path as well because of incompetence, flawed procedures, or fear of embarrassment. For days after the plane disappeared, although there was ample information indicating that the jet had headed toward the Indian Ocean, Malaysia and an increasing number of other countries kept looking for it in the Gulf of Thailand.

There is even worse news. Much of the confusion and uncertainty could easily have been prevented. It is almost inconceivable that, nearly 13 years after 9/11, pilots can still turn off transponders by themselves. (In those rare circumstances when it might be desirable for a pilot to turn off a transponder, there is no technical obstacle to requiring an additional ground-based signal to do it.) Moreover, there is an eight-year-old technology available — Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast, or ADS-B — that provides more detailed and more reliable flight and positioning information than does a standard-issue transponder. Although MH370 had ADS-B, and although amateurs on the ground picked up its signal, air traffic controllers did not. Across the world, countries have been slow to embrace it because of bureaucratic inertia and misplaced safety concerns. (In the United States, the FAA does plan to adopt it nationwide, but not before 2020.)

If ADS-B isn’t your style, continuous-broadcast GPS is another readily-available technology that airlines can use to monitor their fleets. But as Peter Parrish, vice president of operations for Latitude Technologies, which produces such a system, has lamented, “For some reason, the major carriers continue to rely exclusively on old technology to track their aircraft when one of our boxes could be tucked into an out-of-the-way spot on the aircraft to report location on a continuous basis, including on an accelerated basis right up to the point of impact in the event of a crash.” Ironically, while Malaysia Airlines’ regional subsidiary, MASwings, has embraced this technology, its parent company has not.

In one sense, the bad news is not surprising. Although technology advances by leaps and bounds, improvement in our mental ability to perceive and analyze the world takes place on an evolutionary timescale. Cognitive, bureaucratic, social, and cultural barriers to learning are ubiquitous. I have spent most of my professional career trying to understand why national leaders — who are almost always very smart people — make so many mistakes, and the answer is simply that they are human. As former Secretary of State Dean Rusk said to me toward the end of his life, “I’ve met and worked with a good many people whose names are in the history books or in the headlines. I have never met a demigod or a superman. I have only seen relatively ordinary men and women groping to deal with the problems with which they are faced.”

We have come to appreciate that our rapidly increasing technological sophistication — which has brought to us such benefits as safe, convenient air travel — carries with it great potential cost. It gives us a greater ability to destroy, of course. But, as my colleague Thomas Homer-Dixon, CIGI Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, has pointed out, it can also lead to the creation of vulnerable, overly-tightly-connected, and inadequately resilient systems unless we pay careful attention. We have great difficulty appreciating, apparently, that individuals and organizations are often the weakest links in those systems. National leaders don’t think of themselves or their counterparts elsewhere as ill-informed, confused, emotional, fallible, and perhaps even slightly mad some of the time. Nor do they think of the complex departments, ministries, agencies, and militaries over which they have authority and nominal control as marginally to severely dysfunctional virtually 100 percent of the time. But they are.

In a tense, heavily-armed region such as East or Southeast Asia, it would be a good idea for leaders to reflect on the limited capacities of individuals and organizations and the inevitability that they will make mistakes. And at no time are mistakes more likely than in times of crisis. The bizarre story of MH370 should make the importance of that insight painfully clear.

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