Saturday, 11-Jan-2003 12:33 AM
Can Mahathir afford to martyr Anwar?
President Marcos was once the all powerful dictator
of South East Asia. It seemed like no one
could shake him. Even America
wanted to be his friend. Then he made the biggest mistake of his
career. He bumped of his political rival, Benigno
Aquino and, suddenly, a martyr was "born" -- pun
Benigno’s widow, then
only a housewife, was reluctantly thrust into the forefront of Filipino
politics. She took over the mantle of her late husband’s political
struggle, not quite knowing what she would have to do. The wave
of dissent became too powerful to stop and soon Marcos and family
had to be airlifted to the safety of Hawaii,
minus a couple of hundred high heel shoes -- many still in their
boxes and yet to see the light of day.
The next and also apparently unshakeable dictator,
President Suharto of Indonesia,
who probably never heard the saying “history repeats itself”, created
a few martyrs of his own when his army snipers assassinated dissenting
university students. Thereafter, Suharto’s
demise was almost as rapid as his Filipino counterpart’s.
Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad
should learn from history and not make the same mistake as that
of his brother dictators. As long as he “legally” keeps Anwar Ibrahim
in jail, he can parry any accusation of political assassination,
trumped-up charges, and the like. But once Anwar faces a life-threatening
situation and Mahathir does not demonstrate any compassion, the
whole issue would take on a new perspective.
How bad could Anwar’s crime have been -- even
if you are prepared to go along with what the legal system suggests
about Anwar’s guilt -- that he deserves to pay for it with his life?
Did he plunder the state’s coffers? Did he rape an underage girl?
Did he murder a political rival? Did he receive gratuity for dishing
out favours? Many of Mahathir ministers
have been guilty of all these, but none had to pay for it with their
For more than two years, Anwar has been suffering
from a serious spinal injury. The government doctors, specialists
and surgeons have unanimously recommended surgery. The government,
however, is not about to consider this. They have offered all sorts
of counter proposals, all which the specialists agree would open
Anwar to great risk. But the government will not relent.
They sent Anwar to a government hospital to
have his spine scanned and immediately deleted all hospital records
saying it is “normal procedure”, though not one doctor would endorse
that as hospital policy. When Anwar threatened legal action, they
immediately sent him to redo the MRI scan knowing they would be
hard-pressed to explain in court the logic of destroying a patient’s
hospital record when he has neither been discharged yet nor been
treated for his ailment.
How could Anwar place himself in the hands of
a hospital that smacks of being bedfellows to a conspiracy to deny
him his right to medical treatment? The hospital had demonstrated
bad faith even before they treated him. How could Anwar now trust
The government gave Anwar two weeks to accept
the offer of local treatment. If not, then he would get no treatment.
When he declined the offer, they sent him back to prison untreated.
They promised Anwar treatment in prison instead. But even the government
doctors complained they could not get free access to him. There
was no way they could look after his health when they could not
even get to see him.
The government claims Anwar will get the treatment
he requires, but back in prison. Since he can no longer be placed
in a hospital, they will bring the hospital to him. That “hospital”
is yet to materialize and even the spattering of equipment they
did send to prison sits on the prison floor yet to be installed
or put into service.
Anwar is constantly on painkillers till his
hands and legs puff-up due to an overdose. He cannot move about
without the aid of assistants or a wheelchair. And they dope him,
day in and day out, to camouflage the pain.
But while pain can be suppressed, the ailment
cannot. You can pretend the symptoms no longer exist, but you cannot
ignore the cause. And, sooner or later, the truth catches up on
Recently, Anwar was, yet again, hospitalized,
and this time for pneumonia of the left lung. Then, on further examination,
they discovered he had asthma as well. Both, if untreated, could
lead to death.
This is the first sign of a body about to give
One can argue, as Dr Mahathir did, that a spinal
injury is but a mere backache. But one cannot pass off pneumonia
and asthma as a mere nose dribble.
Mahathir is taking a great risk with Anwar’s
health. Keeping Anwar behind bars is one thing. Gambling with his
life is another. He can deflect all flak on how Anwar was tried
and sentenced. But he will never be able to defend himself if Anwar
dies in prison, especially when it could have been avoided.
Can Mahathir afford to martyr Anwar? Mahathir
feels he can. And that was exactly how Marcos and Suharto
RAJA PETRA KAMARUDIN