The documentary “The Borneo Case” was produced by the Swedish film makers Erik Pauser and Dylan Williams. The film deals with the illegal deforestation in Malaysia and begins with the disappearance of the Swiss environmental activist Bruno Manser in 2000. Manser had lived with the Penan tribe in the Malaysian federal state Sarawak on Borneo for six years and engaged for the rainforest preservation and for the human rights of the indigenous community. Additionally, he founded the Bruno Manser foundation. After Manser’s disappearance, other human rights activists have continued his work. The film sheds light on the current situation in Malaysia and introduces the four main protagonists to the audience – the exiled tribesman Mutang Urud, the investigative journalists Clare Rewcastle Brown and Peter John Jaban as well as the historian and executive director of the Bruno Manser fund Lukas Straumann. Since several activists have been convicted and prosecuted for expressing their opinion in Malaysia, the five characters mostly work from abroad. Much attention is paid to the Online Radio station “Sarawak Report” which was founded by Clare Rewcastle Brown in London and which has served as an international platform to broadcast information about the political and ecological situation in Sarawak since it was founded in 2010.
But the film makers Pauser and Williams also accompany Mutang who returns after 20 years of exile to Sarawak and learn of the Government’s plan to build twelve hydroelectric power dams which destroy the rain forest and several villages. Simultaneously, Clare Rewcastle Brown and Peter Jaban begin to investigate what has happened with the profits from the illegal logging and the building of the Dams. They discover a network of global money laundering which does not only involve the family of Sarawak’s Chief Minister Taib Mahmud but also several international banks and companies.
Talking to the film producer Erik Pauser
In an interview with the director of the movie, Erik Pauser gave an insight into the documentary and the obstacles during the production. Moreover, he talked about his current work.
Which challenges did you face during the shooting?
The biggest challenge was the story itself. I made a film about Bruno and the Penans 15 years ago. Bruno Manser disappeared two weeks after we finished that shoot.
The idea was then to do something about Bruno and the Penantribe but the story grew. We started to do research and thereby hooked up with Clare Rewcastle, Mutang, Lukas Straumann and all these activists. We just followed what happened then. It was a slow development and things were happening all over the world, so we moved around a lot because of the different shootings. But we also did not have an end for the film. It is a tragic story and a lot of people are fighting but we did not see any real results until Taib had to step down. Due to the different journeys, the production of the film was expensive and it was difficult to get it financed. It does not look like environmental films are high on the agenda of television stations. It was hard to get the broadcasters to be part of this production. Additionally, the story was difficult because we did not know where it was going and because of its complexity. We shot much more, but in the end we tried to simplify the story to make it easier for the audience to understand what is really going on.
How did you finance the movie?
We started looking for interests in our own country, such as the Swedish television and the Swedish film institute. Additionally, we applied for money from the European Union, but to be able to apply for funding from the European Union, we had to have five other countries involved. We started with Denmark, Norway, Finland and England. Additionally, we made a short pilot which was presented and we found seven different television channels which made a pre-buy. Furthermore, we were supported by the film fund in Sweden, by a Norwegian and a Welsh film fund. In the end, the film was supported by 14 different sponsors.
Have there been any threats or interferences of the Malaysian government or anybody else since the movie has been released?
Not for us, but Clare, Peter and other people – who were involved in the film – have constantly received death threats and have been harassed. They also have been hacked several times but we have not had any comparable problems. I do not know if they are checking our emails. They could do that since the Malaysian government invests large amounts of money for intelligence services.
Have the living conditions of the indigenous community changed after Taib Mahmud resigned? If so, to what extent?
After Taib resigned, Adenan came to power. He made kinds of promises but he died three or four months ago. His successor also belongs to Malaysia´s elite and has not changed anything of Adenan’s promises yet. But apart from that, the indigenous people are discussing the project the “Baram Peace Park”. The Bruno Manser foundation has worked on the Baram Peace Park which comprises 244,000 hectares of land and which the Penan people want to protect.
They therefore formed a coalition with the NGO “Save the rivers” and others. In contrast to that, the local government in Sarawak has not been very interested in protecting this area. But now the Sarawak Forestry Department has shown an interest in the project and the delegation from the department has come to Switzerland and Sweden to discuss how to save the land with different partners. A success of this project would mean a big change and it would mean a lot to these people if the area could be protected. Otherwise, I think changes are slow. Sarawak has a corrupt government and Malaysia does not have a strong civil society. This makes it difficult to see fast changes. Changes in Malaysia are slow and I think there is a need of international pressure to keep things up.
Coming back to the former question: Which threats exist for the rain forest, its citizens and its biodiversity nowadays?
A lot of logging is still going on. When we travelled to the interior of Sarawak, we continuously saw logging trucks and sometimes I was not sure if these were from protected areas or not. 15 years ago, there were still couple of hundreds of Penans that were nomadic but nowadays all of them are semi-settled. Certain areas are closed off and clear-cut to build dams or palm oil plantations. Sarawak already has as much energy as it needs, so why do you have to build twelve dams? What are they going to do with the electricity? Taib and his government built these dams to establish industrial zones, for instance aluminium factories which need a lot of energy.
Many of the indigenous people are suffering because they lose land and they do not get their rights in court. Even when court proceedings are going on and when land rights cases are won, the logging is continued because the legal system does not really work.
Can you tell me something about the projects in which you have been involved since the documentary was finished?
At the moment, we try to get the film shown in different parts of the world. Our plan is to do a world tour in co-operation with the NGO “Global Bersih” before the next election in Malaysia takes place. We have also formed several co-operations to screen the film, for instance with the NGO “Transparency International” and “Cinema for Peace”. Moreover, we are trying to launch an impact campaign in Germany in fall before the film will be on screen.
We also worked with the “Fair and Finance Guide”. The organization is placed in nine different nations worldwide. They look at banks and financial institutions and check if these institutions follow their own ethical guidelines and if they keep their promises, concerning for instance the protection of the environment or the workers. The “Fair and Finance Guide” made a big report in Sweden, which was released at the same time as the film. In the 112 page reports they investigated Sweden´s seven biggest banks and their investments in four companies in Borneo. The organization cooperates with the NGO “Swedwatch” which sent two groups of researchers to Sarwak to check the companies. It was a very critical report about these seven Swedish banks. Another criticized bank was the Deutsche Bank. While our film shows the feelings of the human beings, the report presents numbers and hard facts.
I think it is really interesting that we often believe that we are far away from the problems although countries – such as Sweden or Germany – are connected to Sarawak and its problems. We are even part of these problems because our companies, our banks, our money is invested in problematic companies in Sarawak.
How can people – who live abroad, for example in Germany – support the indigenous community in Sarawak?
There are many different organizations and NGOs. It is not easy but you can engage yourself in such an NGO. This is the way to do it. Otherwise, you can also contact your bank and demand change. This is part of our impact campaign.
About Erik Pauser
Erik Pauser is a Swedish film producer and artist who was born in Linköping in 1957 and who lives in Stockholm. He has been involved in several exhibitions in different European countries, in the United States, in Palestine, in Southeast Asia and in South Africa. Some of his popular films as a director are “The Face of the Enemy” and “The Machine” and as a producer “Once there was Love”, “Maneuvers in the Dark – The North Korean Jeans Story” and “Men Who Swim Together”. Throughout the last five years Erik Pauser and Dylan Williams accompanied the protagonists of the documentary “The Borneo Case” and worked on the film. The documentary will be aired by ZDF this fall. Further information can be found on: theborneocase.com
Do you want to watch the whole documentary? Attend a screening organized by Global Bersih on Malaysia day (16th of September) which is taking place in different cities worldwide.
Bersih is a coalition consisting of several human-rights organizations and non-governmental organizations which are campaigning for the reformation of the electoral system and for good governance in Malaysia.
The country has suffered under massive electoral misconduct and has been ruled by the same coalition (Barisan Nasional) since its independence in 1957. Malaysia is also becoming infamous for corruption. The latest scandal involves a Malaysian state investment fund called 1 MDB (follow this link to receive further information). Several newspapers such as the Wall Street Journal has reported that huge sums of money from the 1 MDB fund have been transferred into private accounts of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. The estimated amount comes to 700 million US$. The Prime Minister himself claimed that the money was donated by an unknown Arab prince. How idiotic must people who to believe such a blatant lie and how offensive must it be for Malaysians to realize that their head of state rates them as completely dumb?
Among other interesting actions which were taken to save his power, Najib Razak fired the Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to replace him with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi in 2015 mentioning that loyalty was more important to him than intelligence. Best perspectives for a country which is still regarded as an „emerging nation“ and which is lacking in so many different areas: rising living costs, the faltering currency and the oppression of the press are just a few issues affecting Malaysians. Besides these, Najib Razak reshuffled the whole cabinet, which was followed by the dismissal of other not- so- loyal politicians- meaning politicians who dared to criticize the almighty Prime Minister. In 2015 the former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was detained and since then countless activists, journalists, students and politicians were arrested. A clear indicator for the non-existence of freedom of speech was the shutdown of newspapers such as the Malaysian Insider or Aliran and the harrassment journalists experienced.
Although the government is already instrumentalizing several laws which they interpretate the way they wished to and which include detention without trial, the National Security Act was passed in August 2016. Since that day the Prime Minister has the power to declare state of emergency in certain areas and anyone who is located in that area during that time, can be arrested and detained without trial. But that´s not all. The Prime Minister can command the military and police to shoot at these people. You can imagine that this law can easily be applied on demonstrations.
I attended the first demonstration after the National Security Act was passed which was an experiment to observe if and how radical police interfered and if they used water cannons, tear gas or even guns. The rally was organized by the student movement and was called „Tangkap MO1“ (= Catch Malaysian Official No.1). We were demonstrating for the resignation of the Prime Minister to raise the awareness of the Malaysians, and also to release detainees whose judicial decisions were clearly politically motivated. We protested for around four hours; hundreds of people gathered, walked together through the capital city Kuala Lumpur and did a sit-in while speeches were given.
Luckily, the police did not interfere in a violent way but arrests took place before and after the rally. Among us were children and I was wondering what might happen to them, if the police decided to crush the rally. I was even wondering more why parents are taking their children to street rallies and if they were aware of the possible consequences. Whoever is reading this article, please leave your children at home and don´t mess around with their lives by taking them to street demonstrations which might escalate! Just imagine it comes to a mass panic. How can you keep them safe them from being stamped down?
Apart from criticizing the attendance of children, there are more than 100 good reasons to organize and attend street demonstrations to show the people´s dissatisfaction. From the beginning of October until the 19th of November Bersih convoys covered several towns and cities as well as rural areas to raise awareness and to motivate people to join the rally. Participants distributed flyers, organized flash mobs and started conversations with Malaysians to discuss the impact of corruption and the need for reformation. Bersih 5.0 was announced for the 19th of November 2016, not only in Malaysia but also at international level. Migrated Malaysians started showing solidarity with the foundation of Global Bersih.
You can find chapters in Australia, Asia, Europe and America. When the date for Bersih 5.0 was fixed, people all around the world started organizing demonstrations in their cities to raise awareness of the locals and to show solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Malaysia.
The student group of Amnesty International in Passau organized an event related to the ideas of Bersih which took place on 21st of November at the uni campus. We campaigned for clean and fair elections, informed students about the political situation in Malaysia and collected signatures to demand charges to be dropped against several human rights activists to silence oppositional voices. Affected activists are the former student group leader Adam Adli who is currently facing two years of jail-term, the organizers of Bersih Maria Chin Abdullah who is currently detained under SOSMA and is kept in solidary confinement, Mandeep Singh, the state assemblyman of the federal state of Pahang, Chean Chung, who might lose his political position and the cartoonist Zunar who is facing 43 years of prison for his regime-critical cartoons.
One day before Bersih 5.0 took place, Mandeep Singh and Maria Chin Abdullah as well as Zuraida Kamaruddin (PKR), Anthony Loke (DAP), Howard Lee (DAP) and other individuals were arrested and the Bersih office was raided by the police.
The eve before the rally I received this Whatsapp message which highlighted the situation.
It is the eve of the BERSIH rally, we are sure that everybody is preparing for the rally for what seems to be the next step to achieving a free and fair election for Malaysia. It was around 6.00 p.m., we were at home preparing dinner when we received a call from a family friend asking if we were ok and if we heard about the news. Confused about what was going on, we asked her what happened. She explained to us that our mother has been arrested and was brought to a police station for further processing. Within the next hour we were at the police station and as we arrived we had to wait for one of our mother’s lawyer to bring us in to see our mother. While we were in the processing room, our mother explained to us that she was being charged for destabilizing the government. Both Mandeep and our mother were reassuring us that everything is going to be fine in a calm and collective state. We hoped that the charges would be dropped and that she would be released soon.
After everything that has transpired, it is disappointing that people that fight for a fair and clean election have been branded as a threat to the country. Is this the type of country that we Malaysian’s want to live in, where corruption runs a mock and elections are rigged and innocents are placed behind bars? When we were younger, we did not understand what our parents were fighting for or why our father was protesting strongly against I.S.A. He is gone now. We are old enough to understand the importance and sacrifice of the work that people like them do. People like our parents, who are willing to speak up against corruption do not to it for their own sake, but for the sake of the future generations.
As we are writing this, we as Malaysian’s are hours away from an opportunity to voice out to make a change in Malaysia. It is why it is so important for us as Malaysian’s to show that we will not tolerate the injustice that government officials have gotten away with. We implore to our fellow Malaysian’s that are attending the rally or are watching it at home, to listen to the speakers and to understand what BERSIH is trying to achieve. We hope that the rally will be peaceful and see you there.
Azumin, Aziman, Azemi.
After the arrests, Malaysian citizens gathered on the night of 18th November to pressure the government to release the activists. The next day the rally took place and Bersih united tens of thousands of Malaysians who joined the cause, formed a massive yellow wave and took it to the streets.
I followed the event by watching everything which was uploaded by the online portals of „The Star“ and „Malaysiakini“ and by receiving information from people who were attending the rally. I was highly impressed by the courage of the people who were aware of the consequences and the danger but who still took it to the streets and campaigned for change, and therefore for a better future of Malaysia, its future generations and for the good of all Malaysians. By just watching the news I felt the anger of the Malaysians.
While Bersih officials tried to avoid direct confrontation with the police so that demonstrators wouldn´t get hurt, individuals were refusing to follow the orders of the police since they didn´t see changes coming in behaving accordingly to the government´s instructions. The dilemma here is that these rallies can easily turn to bloody riots with a huge death toll.
During the protest activists, such as the PKR politician Tian Chua, the comedian Hishammuddin Rais and student activists were arrested and I am sure that they were not the last ones but that other arrests will follow within the next days.
Luckily police did not use tear gas or water canons but the red shirts, who deem themselves loyal to the government and who were probably paid by them, followed the Bersih convoys to start trouble, intimidated and harrassed Berish followers whenever they had the chance to and gathered during the Bersih demonstration not without threatening violence to Bersih participants.
Leader of the Red Shirt Movement Jamal “I am not saying we will use violence, anything can happen, including violence.”
However, the number of the Red Shirts was much fewer than that of the Bersih participants so that Jamal and his gang did not have a say during that day.
I personally think that Bersih 5.0 was really successful, because it achieved something that the government is desperately trying to avoid: uniting all Malaysians regardless of religion or ethnicity. Reformation will not come automatically and it will take a very long time until deep changes will be notable but having organizations like Bersih is a step towards democracy. Bersih paves the way for effective reforms and has challenged the government for years. They are independent from parties and without Bersih people would not have the chance to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the current policies and its course at such a huge level. It is necessary to have activists like Maria, Ambiga, Zunar, Adam, Hishammuddin Rais and all the students who are engaging in this course because they are the ones who are sacrificing a lot for the benefit of the nation which is really brave and highly respectable. No one can tell me that activists, who are not political representatives are profiting by spending their time in a dirty prison cell. Even if it is still a long way to go, people should not be disappointed but always continue the struggle for freedom.
Achieving nothing by your struggle is better than sitting around doing nothing. Everyone should remember that “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (-Martin Luther King). I guess otherwise people have lost the moral right to complain because ignorance shows acceptance with the oppressor and their reign.
I had the pleasure to interview the Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, who is better known as Zunar.
His cartoons are cynical, regime-critical and are dealing with several political issues such as corruption, cronyism or the glamorous life of Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah (1MDB scandal).
Zunar was imprisoned during the 1990s and was slammed with nine Sedition Act charges for his cartoons as well as his tweets, which are criticising the Malaysian judiciary in 2015. If he is found guilty of all nine charges, he faces up to 43 years of jail term.
In this part Zunar is describing his work and is talking about his trial and his visions for the future of Malaysia.
How successful is your work? Does it affect people and how does it affect them?
It is really difficult to say that it affects people in term of numbers, fact and figures. I cannot give you the details, but if you look at the fact that the government had to ban my work and my books it shows that it has an impact on the people. The government used the Printing and the Sedition Act. They claimed that the books were detrimental to public order and that it can influence people to deal with things which are against the government. I talked to someone who sat in the meeting in which they discussed my case. He told me that the government needed to ban my books because they were worried that my cartoons can change the youngsters perception of Malaysian politics. More people have started sharing, interacting or commenting on my cartoons. Furthermore I see that they are enjoying my cartoons from their feedback and the letters or the e-mails I have received from them. They describe my work as sharp and funny. I also believe that cartoon is the only media in Malaysia, that is crossing boundaries such as race boundaries, rational boundaries or social boundaries. I have a fan, who is 15 years old and I have a fan – who is a retired federal judge. Cartoons is a way to catch people who are not following politics. It is interesting that a 66 year old man and a 15 year old boy will view and enjoy the the same cartoon. Cartoon is a very powerful medium everywhere in the world. There are many cartoonists – who have been arrested in Middle- East, in China and in Central America, because of the power of their work. My cartoons are basically calling for reforms.
How has the Malaysian government interfered with your work?
Besides banning my books, they have raided my office several times and confiscated books.
I think they took more than 1000 books, which are still with the police or the Home Ministry. They also visited book stalls throughout Malaysia and warned them not to publish and sell my books. Otherwise they will risk their licenses. The same goes to the printers. Three of them were raided by the police and they confiscated the printing plate as well as other printing materials. The printers also received a warning, which was that their printing license will be revoked- if they continued printing my books. Since I was not able to sell my books in any shop, I concentrated on online sale, but the webmaster was called up by the police under the Sedition Act and the police demanded the names of all the customers, who purchased my books online. So far the government has used three laws in order to stop me, which are the Printing and Press Act, the Sedition Act and the Penal Code.
Last year police tried to stop the launch of my books twice. They came to the event and tried to stop me from continuing. In one investigation I told them “You can ban my books, you can ban my publications, but you cannot ban my mind. I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink.” That is why I have continued my work. Some people asked me, whether I am going to stop, because I am facing nine charges under the Sedition Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 43 years. I was asked “Will you consider stopping or slowing down?” and I said “No.”, because it is important for me to voice out. Talent is not a gift, talent is a responsibility, so I cannot say “Oh, I have talent, I become a big head. Oh, now I can be rich, I can have everything. I can become famous.” No! Talent is a responsibility, so I really need to perform my responsibility and I have to fulfill my duties as a cartoonist to push for reforms in my own way. Of course people are saying “But you are facing jail now. Are you not scared?” and I say “Yes, I am scared. I am human and I have fear like everyone else, but responsibility has created this fear. As a cartoonist, as a Malaysian and as a human-being I have to call for changes.”
Have you also been arrested during Reformasi?
Yes, once for seven days, which means that it is nothing new for me to spend time in the police lockup. I
am experienced. They investigated me and I had to give three or four statements, not only to the police, but also to the police headquarters last time I went there. I was taken to the department, which focuses on social media as well. They have people monitoring the social media and I had to give a statement. They will question your background. They want to know everything about your family, where your sisters live, where you started school, information about your bothers, basically everything.
Why did the police need this information?
I do not know why you have to give this information but it´s compulsory. You have the chance to not answer certain statements during detention which can be used against you, for instance the question “What do you want to express with this cartoon?”. I do not have to answer this one but you have to answer questions about yourself. In general it is easy to monitor me and to harass me and also my family, because you have the feeling that the police knows everything about you and your family. You will think that this is dangerous for you. You are scared that they will harm your family and this is what they want to create in your mind.
How has the process of the trial been so far? When did it start?
I was slammed with nine charges under the Sedition Act. The trial was supposed to start in November last year, but they cannot proceed at the moment, because I have started challenging the constitutionality of the law of the Sedition Act. For me the Sedition Act is against the constitution, because Article 10 in the Malaysian federal constitution guarantees freedom of expression. However, they are using the Sedition Act to control the people by saying what you can voice out and what you can not. I might go to prison but somebody has to do this. If not, they will continue using the Sedition Act. If I lose, and there is only a very slim chance that I could win, I will point out, that there is something wrong in the system and if more people are doing the same the government might think twice about their decisions in the future.
When did the trial start?
It started in March 2015. They charged me a week before the trial started. After they arrest you, they release you and they start the charge against you. Normally it takes them one month preparing the charge, bringing you to the court and setting the date. When I was informed by the police that I was charged under the Sedition Act, I prepared 5000 RM bail. It was not a problem then but a few hours before the trial took place, police came back and told me that I was slammed with nine charges instead of one. It was very last minute and I needed to get 45000RM for the next day. If you do not have the money, you go straight to jail. I did not have the money, so I asked for the people´s support on the internet. I gave my account number and people started contributing. The next day I had enough money to bail me out but you can see that this is a very political decision.
The government is trying to silence me – they used so many tactics, such as using three laws against me, raiding the office and my printers, and banning my books, but I decided to keep on drawing, so they thought about another way to stop me from drawing, which was slamming me with nine charges. Sometimes you get released because they do not have enough evidence against you but with nine charges and this political vendetta it is getting difficult. This case is very extra-ordinary and nobody had that many charges in Malaysia before.
They want to make sure that I stop. If they send me to jail, I can not draw anymore.
How has your wife reacted to the nine charges and the possibility that you might go to prison for 43 years?
It is very important that you make sure that your family is not worried. They will get the signal very clearly. If I started worrying, they would worry as well. We are definitely facing this, but we also try not to think too far ahead. You go day by day. If I started worrying it would affect my work as well and there is no reason for me to slow down. I need this strength, so that my family is strong. But what gives me the strength? It is again the people´s support. I know that I am not doing this alone. People have been very supportive by donating money for example. The main enemy for every artist in the world is censorship and I do not want to practice that. In fact, since my detention, I have drawn more cartoons and I am still looking for a solution to draw a very effective cartoon. Since March 2015 people can see that there are many differences between my current and my previous cartoons. There are many small items in my cartoons. One is the AG which appears in my cartoons everyday. I also have kept on improving the display of the cartoons. I keep challenging myself everyday but also based on the expectation of my readers. I try to understand their mind and I try to catch their imagination, because I want to draw something with which they are familiar.
How likely is it that you will go to prison and that they will find you guilty?
The charge is politically motivated, which means that it is really difficult to win against the government. There are so many cases, for instance Anwar Ibrahim.
For me everything is part of the script. I do not see a way to win this battle. There might be a chance of 1% to win but I want to face this trial to create awareness, not only in Malaysia but also in the international community. A lot of things will come up during the trial and the government has to justify it. It will be based on my journeys all over the world. Many NGOs and embassies have promised to come and to send representatives to watch my trial. It will become an international issue and this is what I want. I want people to see how bad the situation of freedom of expression and human rights is in Malaysia. But if I skip the trial and seek asylum in Europe, the government would be very satisfied and they would win.
But, if you migrate to Europe or Australia, you could still continue drawing cartoons.
Yes, I could continue. But again, I want to face the trial. I do not want to think too far ahead. I am a very simple person and I do not have plans on anything.
How do you feel about this case?
I do not think about it now. If you keep thinking about that, you will start making assumptions and based on this you will make a judgment. But we do not know anything yet. You really have to be sure what you are fighting for. The line must be very clear. Sometimes we get confused because the lines become blurry. I am fighting through cartoons. This is my line and I will continue this. I will face this and I believe that the line is more important than the result. I do not want to think about the result because there are so many possibilities. We need to stay positive and optimistic.
If I fight hard enough with my tour around the world and I keep on drawing cartoons, keep challenging the law and the repressive regime, then I am not sure whether I am the one who is going to face 43 years of jail or if the Prime Minister of Malaysia is the one who is going to face 43 years in prison. We need to be really optimistic about this. If we are not optimistic, we do not have to fight. If you do not have self-confidence, you cannot fight. You need to believe that you will win, although you do not know the final result.
Do you think that more Malaysians should become political active although many of them are controlled by fear?
I am really looking for more creative persons. We have street protests in Malaysia and I think that the number of demonstrators is really huge now. We also have political parties that are fighting on political platforms and we have a parliament where we can go and protest to but there is a lack of creative mentalities. Do you know the difference? The government – or those who are in power – are trained to overcome these protests. They know how to deal with street protests. They were trained that way but the creative way is one where the government does not know how to handle. That is why I hope that more people come out to fight in creative ways, because this is something which is out of the government´s control. This is important in every country in the world. Just take the Arab spring as a result. There were so many singers, song writers, artists, and cartoonists, who came out and did something which the government was not expecting, such as people who started singing. It is very simple and the government does not know what to do. What will the government do if you start laughing? Can they stop you from laughing? And somehow, you can forget the prominent artists in Malaysia. I have the feeling that they do not care and that they are already gone in the term of reform but my hope is for the youngsters.
There is an artist who is called Fahmi. They can charge him but other people can still spread his pictures. I heard that they have started spraying his pictures. If more creative people start protesting, the time for change would become shorter. Once you are creative, you can attract more people to start protesting but I agree with you: people are scared. We can not expect that everyone is brave. I do not expect everybody to go to the street. They have reasons like a job or family but I think “Come. Let us laugh about the government. We will laugh together.” This is a safe and quite effective way. I call it “Cartoons for the people” and that is also the reason why I removed the copyright from my cartoons. People can just copy and share the cartoons. They do not need permission because it is the people´s cartoons. I want them to take part in the process. If I used copyright, people would not be able to join me in the fight, so I hope that more artists are doing this. Artists have to be close to the people. If you are not sensitive, you cannot be an artist. They have to touch the people´s hearts through their work. This is art.
What is your wish for the future of Malaysia?
I wish that we can achieve total reforms one day, even, if it will not happen during my lifetime. Once Malaysia was a very good country. We lived in harmony, There were not racial tensions between us. Malays, Chinese and Indians could live together but tensions were created by the government. Back then we had people with characters. I hope we can go back to that time but before this we need total reforms. People have to decide the path of this country.
Zunar (Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque) is a Malaysian cartoonist who has been political active since the Reformasi movement (1998).
His cartoons are cynical, regime-critical and are dealing with several political issues such as corruption, cronyism or the glamorous life of Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah (1MDB scandal).
Zunar was imprisoned during the 1990s and was slammed with nine Sedition Act charges for his cartoons as well as his tweets last year, which are criticising the Malaysian judiciary. If he is found guilty of all nine charges, he faces up to 43 years of jail term.
But Zunar has not given up the fight and I met him beginning of this year within the context of the opening of his art exhibition as well as the prize-giving ceremony of “Dessins pour la Paix” (= “Cartooning for Peace”) in which he received the price together with the Kenyan cartoonist Gado in Geneva.
Read the first part of the interview in which Zunar is talking about his career and the Reformasi time.
What inspired you to start drawing cartoons?
Cartoons have been in my mind and in my heart since my childhood. My first cartoon was published in a children´s magazine when I was 12 years old. I always wanted to be a cartoonist and I kept on drawing all the time, but I was unable to take art class in school. I needed to choose a course and my parents encouraged me to take science instead of art, so I followed their advice, which means that I do not have any formal education in art. I taught myself and therefore referred to other cartoonists. Once in a while I could publish my cartoons in a magazine column for newcomers. After school I went to university for one year, but I decided not to continue my studies because I really did not like the course.
Did you study a scientific course?
Yes, I chose science and education. I would have become a teacher and I am glad I did not. I dropped out of university in 1981 and worked in several part-time jobs such as in construction work. Later on I was offered a job in a hospital as a technician. This was my first permanent job and I worked there for about five years. This was from 1981 to 1986 but I already had my own column in a cartoon magazine during that time.
Was drawing cartoons somewhat of hobby for you during that time?
It became a part-time profession. I completed two cartoons every week, which can be regarded as a regular column. But after a while there were conflicts because science and cartoons are totally different from each other. It is not only a different job type, but it also includes a different kind of mind set. When you draft a science report you are dealing with numbers, facts and figures but I became creative and I had to create something during the night time. When I spent more time as a cartoonist, I started to lose this scientific thinking. My reports went wrong and it is dangerous when you cannot come up with a simple report. At that time I knew that I had to follow one path and I decided to become a professional cartoonist instead of a scientist in 1986. During that time I drew cartoons for a magazine, called Gila-Gila. That was when I started to be a bit satirical. Later on I became more politically-oriented. I liked politics, I liked to inform myself about current issues, so it got into my mind- since I like politics and I also like drawing cartoons, why not combine both interests into a political cartoon? This was when I started to become politically active.
When did you decide to start drawing political cartoons?
This was about the end of the 90s. The audience of the magazine I was working for were mostly teenagers and they did not understand politics during those times. I drew so much political staff but only a few people appreciated it. I knew that I needed another platform, so I started to work for a Malaysian newspaper. This was in 1991, but if you work for a government-owned newspaper, your creative mind is limited in many ways. There are so many Do´s and Don´t s.
I only worked there for six months. Then I decided that it was not the place for me. There was no space for a cartoonist to survive in Malaysia. During those days, we did not have the internet and we were not aware of alternatives. You go from one governmental newspaper to the next and the policy is the same, so I kind of retired from being a political cartoonist which means I also did not know what was going to happen in the future and I did not care. I started to do cartoon-related work, such as teaching people how to draw cartoons or book illustrations. This was until 1998 – the year in which Reformasi started. This was the point when I started to return to draw political cartoons, because some political changes happened in Malaysia in September. The Reformasi movement changed Malaysia´s politics. It changed every perception of it. We started to have some opposition tabloids and I sent my cartoons to them. I finally could draw what I wanted to draw.
Does that mean that the opposition tabloids gave you more freedom?
Yes and my cartoons were well received by the readers. In 1999 I started working for Harakah which was owned by the opposition and I started working for Malaysiakini in 2003, because I needed a wider audience. Harakah is more specific for the Malay audience but I wanted to work with a wider audience.
Did you start drawing cartoons about Anwar Ibrahim´s arrest during the time of Reformasi?
Political cartoonists do not draw that specifically. Sometimes I did not draw Anwar but Mahathir instead to represent a specific situation. You could figure out the Reformasi content in my cartoons.
I wanted reforms, not only because of Anwar Ibrahim´s case. I wanted to see a total reform of all institutions in Malaysia and I started thinking about ways to achieve reform. First of all you need to target the government in power. This was what I did during that time.
Which changes have you observed throughout the years in Malaysia beginning from Reformasi until today?
Politically? There have been changes and Reformasi was the turning point for that. One example was that people always supported the government, but 1998 changed that perception. People started questioning. They started looking for alternative content. Before that they were dependent on the news coverage and its content. In the beginning people focused on Anwar´s case, but people started going beyond it. We started criticizing, we started questioning the credibility of the police, of the judicial system, of the Attorney General and of the anti-corruption agency. Also the press changed and more people started talking about reforms in Malaysia which was beyond political parties. Before that it was only opposition against government but people started thinking that we need total reform, regardless of political party. The change might be slow but it is heading in the right direction. The Bersih movement came up with a very essential topic as well which was to protest for free and fair elections.
This is very important for every democratic country and important for us to achieve. We need to reform the electoral process first which is a matter of time, but I am sure that we shall finally see the change. Important now is the mindset of the younger generation. Young people like you are different. They have different mindsets. They are very critical, they analyze rather than just listen and following orders and this is very dangerous for any government in the world. That is why it is not only happening in Malaysia. This also happened during the Arab Spring.
Do you think Pakatan Harapan has a chance to win the upcoming election although laws in Malaysia have become tighter?
We need to understand that the Prime Minister and his cabinet are battling to survive. They do not care about the nation, so, they will introduce more laws to stay in power even beyond the next general election. They introduced the National Security Council law, they are using SOSMA (=detention without trial) and they have started monitoring Facebook and Twitter. They have also continued to use the Sedition Act.
The opposition definitely will not win, but we have to focus on the people´s power, because the power of the people is more important than any law. Just look at other countries, such as the Philippines. Marcos used military power but he could not break the people´s power. More people are dissatisfied with the government compared to the previous years and those people understand that change is very important. I think the number went up to 60% by now, so for me people´s power is more important than any law.
What are your main concerns in Malaysian? Which things should change?
Malaysia seems to be a very good country, if you view it from the outside. It looks pretty democratic, but people should know that we do not have strong and independent institutions. The power is centralized to a few individuals.The power of the leader and the judiciary should be balanced out in a democratic country. The executive should not control the judiciary. If you do that, it is the end for every democracy, but this is happening in Malaysia. The Prime Minister and also his wife are on the call. The police depends on the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister controls the police and even the judges in several cases.
He can tell them how to make a decision. He even controls the AG and the media. We need to change all these institutions. Strong independent institutions are the foundation for democracy. The judiciary must be very independent. There should not be a Minister of Justice. Malaysia has a minister in the Ministry department, who controls the judiciary. The anti-corruption agency must also be free from government control. They must be answerable to parliament. The same situation applies to the police but they are following the orders of the Minister instead of the people. On top of that we need to change the education system and we have to free the media.
The media can help the government to combat corruption which is another problem in Malaysia, but freedom of the media does not exist! People should be able to monitor the government.
The second part of the interview will follow soon.
The Bersih rally took place on 29th of September in Malaysia but also in other nations, like UK, China, Australia and even Germany. I was kind of sad because I couldn´t attend this huge demonstration in Malaysia, but was released when I found out that Global Bersih also organized rallies in Column and Hamburg.
I chose Column and was excited when I reached the city, because I didn´t know a single person on this demonstration.
But my concerns were unfounded: I was welcomed in such a nice way when I reached the Bersih meeting point that I felt home. I just love the Malaysian mentality! I got to know several people of all ages and backgrounds within the first minutes.
People gathered, who came from different parts of Germany to Column. There was even one guy who came the whole way from Luxembourg to join the rally, because Bersih didn´t take place in his country. I can´t say how many people attended the rally in Column, but I guess it were around 50 demonstrators. Not many people for a rally, but the number was irrelevant, because our voices got together and became a really loud, massive one. We got attention from Germans who were just walking by and informed themselves about the reasons for the demonstration.
First of all we sang “Negaraku!” which is the national anthem of Malaysia and “Rasay Sayang!” to show that we love this country, although the government sucks. We also wanted to show that we were demonstrating for the benefit of Malaysia and not to bring chaos to the country as it was claimed by the Malaysian Prime Minister. We had a leader, who repeated “What do we want?” The answers were “Clean elections!”, “Clean government!”, “Save our economy!”, “Right to dissent!”, “Strengthen parliamentary democracy!”, which was translated in German. Other slogans were “Hidup Rakyat!” (= “Long live the people!”) or “Undur Najib!” (= “Remove Najib!”)
We demonstrated around three hours and it was a great feeling to be with people with whom I could share my love to Malaysia and with whom I could discuss about politics.
You have to imagine that I´ve never met a single Malaysian (except my dad and his friends) in Germany before this rally took place.
We can´t do much to change the current situation in Malaysia, but we can try our best to give support. We can show that we care for the people who we love and who live in Malaysia. We can protest against the government to clarify that this country is not theirs, that Malaysians aren´t their slaves and that people aren´t stupid. Enough is enough! At the same I felt really connected to the people who were demonstrating in Malaysia at the same time.
I hope that more demonstrations like this will take place in the future.
Afterwards I interviewed a Malaysian friend, who attended the Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur. Continue this article to read about his experiences.
Bersih 4.0 in Malaysia
Which problems do you see in the future of Malaysia and the current situation?
That´s a pretty obvious question. It´s corruption and the supremacy of the Malays.
Do you mean the rights of the Bumiputera (=son of the earth)?
Yes, UMNO claims that Malaysia is theirs. They say that Malays have Bumiputera rights, which can´t be taken by anyone. This makes the Malays believe that they have the power.
But now there are other races which want the equality which was promised by the government. We- as Malaysians- demand for the promises which were made. We want a clean government and we want clean elections. This was promised, but it hasn´t been fulfilled. That´s why we have Bersih.
What are Malaysians thinking about the current situation in Malaysia, for example that the country might become a failed state? How are the people handling the situation?
Let´s start with our currency, which is getting worse. The value of the ringgit is dropping steadily, which makes us worry. What we also want to highlight here is corruption, which is getting worse as well. It´s killing us from the inside, it´s rotting the government. One example is the 2.6 billion donation from unknown donates. Until now our Prime Minister cannot answer simple questions like: Why did we get it? What is it for? So this is what makes us believe that Malaysia is a failed state. Our Prime Minister cannot answer our questions and the government expects us to accept whatever he says about it. Donation? Come on… This is obviously rubbish and we -as Malaysians- need the answer. It can´t continue like that. We need a solution to handle this situation.
But how are the people feeling? Taxes are increasing, the ringgit is dropping Do you recognize that there´s a change of living standard?
The Prime Minister introduced GST (= Good and Service Tax). He said it´s for the benefit of Malaysia and that this is the solution how to handle the current economy. He also promised that the goods prices will go down because of the GST, but in reality goods and service prices have increased. It´s an obvious lie. Everyone faces this, from the rural folk to the urban city people. We cannot buy stuff as much as we could two or three years ago, not even as much as we could buy one year ago. This affects the quality of life. We have to work more to receive the same wages and we can spend less to buy goods. Politicians lied with everything they said about GST, whatever they promised us, we cannot see it as a solution. It´s not a solution, it´s a problem, GST is a problem. Many are against it, even the royal is against it but nothing has been changed. GST is making our lives difficult. The government needs to find another solution. They have to be transparent about the things which are happening in the parliament. No one trusts the government right now. They pretend that this is the solution, but in reality they are taking the money from us. You could compare it with believing in the thief, who gives us assurance that he will fix it.
Let´s talk about the Bersih rally. Were there any problems before the demonstration took place?
Yes, there were. There was a group, which called themselves anti Bersih movement before the rally took place. It´s a pro government group. They´re really aggressive and progressive. They demonstrated in front of SOGO (= shopping complex in Kuala Lumpur) two weeks ago to show that, if Bersih tends to get aggressive, they are ready.
They knocked each other with woods and all that, it´s pretty weird and embarrassing. Furthermore the police declared that Bersih 4.0 was illegal. They will arrest you under the Sedition Act, if you´re caught wearing, selling or possessing a Bersih T-shirt. The police also blocked the way to Kuala Lumpur. They blocked it to check on Bersih T-Shirts, so they have the power to put you in prison for that.
Were there any arrests before the demonstration took place?
Yes, there were many arrests. One took place in Melaka, but I don´t know much about it. Others took place at a gig with the motto “Participate tonight. Revolution tomorrow.” Police rushed there, when this underground gig took place. They arrested everyone who came to that gig and put them into lockup for three days for no obvious reason. Two of them are my friend´s brothers, so they had to go to lockup because of the revolutionary words. Police said that the gig supported Bersih. They tend to say “Ok. There´s a party tonight, revolution tomorrow. The Bersih rally will take place tomorrow. You´re accused of supporting Bersih. All of you (almost hundred people) are arrested and you have to stay in the lockup for three days and will be released on Monday.” Well, luckily they released them and there was no charge. That´s good.
Could you describe your experiences during the rally? What did you see? What did you do?
Well, I have experiences with Bersih 3.0. Bersih 4.0 is more organized. They´re more controlled in manners, they´re more friendly, they weren´t so aggressive compared to Bersih 3.0. Because Bersih was focused more on one objective this time. They focused more on corruption. We tend to be more cooperative. Some say that there were more Chinese but all of us agreed that we didn´t come as a race, we didn´t come as Chinese, Indians or Malays, we came as Malaysians. We just want to know the answer of 2.6 billion and about the 1MBD scandal. That´s all.
I just watched some videos of the demonstration and saw that you marched through Kuala Lumpur, that speeches were given and that it was an overnight-rally. What else happened?
There were five assembly points, which were pulled together. People gathered around that point and we marched along towards Dataran Merdeka. They blocked Dataran Merdaka, so we just marched around the building. It was kind of a festival: people sang, danced and we just shared thoughts with strangers, we talked about the current political situation.
It was like a Kopi Tiam (= traditional coffee shop in Southeast Asia) with different races, even Orang Aslis (=indigenous people) came to the protest.
What happened after the demonstration took place? Were there arrests afterwards?
None that I know of. They tried to arrest the Bersih organizers, like Maria Chin Abdullah and her accomplices (Mandeep Singh, Adam Adli, opposition leaders). They just want to arrest everyone. They tried to but they need a very strong argument for the arrests.
So they couldn´t arrest anyone until today?
Yeah they couldn´t, not yet. But they´ll find a reason, like they always do.
What were the positive things about Bersih 4.0?
Bersih participants came as a family, which was positive. I think Malaysia is getting smarter, because we cannot accept stupid reasons anymore. There were 200.000 participants as representatives for the rest of Malaysia.
We stood up and said `Bullshit!´ to all the lies from the government. No one can believe their excuses, because they are contradictory. It doesn´t make sense. They also said that we´re traitors, which doesn´t make sense as well. I think Malaysia is getting smarter and more courageous. It´s better than before.
Were there any negative things about Bersih 4.0?
Some. A few of the Bersih participants were kind of emotional.
What does it mean `They were emotional´?
They tend to curse names. I don´t think that this is appropriate. It´s not professional. It doesn´t focus on the topic. They were just angry. I don´t think that this is a good way to express yourself. Maybe we can learn how to give a critical statement in a good way, constructive criticism.
Actually you answered the question already but maybe you´d like to add some things. Was the Bersih 4.0 rally different to the ones which took place before?
Yes, it was pretty different. It was more organized then the ones before. Bersih 4.0 stressed on the independence of the participants. You had to clean up all the trash and maintain the peace with the police. It was different: Bersih 2.0 and Bersih 3.0 failed to handle the provocations.
Now we aren´t longer interested in provocation, we don´t want to provoke anybody else, so we learned our lessons. We tried to behave more civilized. Bersih 4 was an excellent rally and the best Bersih ever. It was brilliant.
Do you think that things will change now? Will Najib Razak resign, is it even possible that there will be a change of the whole government?
I think that a change of the government is very unlikely, because Najib claimed that he won´t step down from his position. He said that just 20.000 people protested against him in Bersih and that the rest of Malaysians support him, which doesn´t make sense. It´s his estimation but Bersih said that there were about 200.000 demonstrators.
Those are just figures, but it shows that Malaysians don´t like the government any longer, Barisan Nasional isn´t relevant anymore, so that´s the point of having Bersih.
Do you think that the government will change in the next elections which will take place in 2018?
I`m positive. Yes, it will change. I think they will lose this time if they don´t cheat the way like they did in in the General Election 2013.
What´s the impact of Bersih on that?
Bersih changed the perception of the people. They made the people believe that they have the power to change the current government. Bersih shows that the people have a voice and that the government has to respect that. I think this scares the government a bit, even a little bit of fear will lead to certain things. I think this is the beginning of a better Malaysia.
There were also demonstrations abroad (= Global Bersih). Do you think that those demonstrations were useful?
Yes, I think this is pretty good. The fact is that many Malaysian professionals left Malaysia. They don´t want to come back, because they compare the government of the country in which they live with the Malaysian government, for example UK and Malaysia.
Bersih demonstration in London.
Global Bersih in Shanghai.
They know that the government in UK don´t have that kind of bullshit and that the people have power. If they protest they know that they can change things but the power of the people is suppressed in Malaysia. Their voices cannot be heard. And it´s also about the comparison of the different economies, so economy and human rights. This make those countries a good place to stay. Malaysians abroad love Malaysia, but as long as this government is ruling Malaysia, they won´t come back. Malaysia always claims that they´re the best in many things: They claim that they have the best electoral system in the world, the best education in the world but these are obviously lies. It´s like North Korea. Everyone has to believe the government.
Why did so many people attend the demonstration this time?
Because of the 1 MDB scandal and corruption. The money was deposited on Najib Razak´s personal bank accounts and the government isn´t answering our questions. The situation became worse than in 2013. There are so many things about Malaysia that people tend to say ´This is bullshit! I cannot take this anymore. I´ll join Bersih.´ There are so many questions.
I read that the majority of the demonstrators were Chinese and that not so many Malays attended the demonstration. Why were there more Chinese people than Malays?
I guess it´s because of PAS (=Islamic party in Malaysia), which joined Bersih 2 and Bersih 3. They shared points and views with Bersih but now they have some disagreement with DAP and Bersih.
Because of Sharia, right? PAS wants to introduce Sharia.
Yes, they want to inforce Sharia. They just want to win the election, take control from the government and talk about Hudud law. Malays are religious and therefore very close to Islam so whatever this political party says, the Malays will fight for it, because it´s for the Islam.
But I mean there´s a difference between really conservative Malays and people like you, who aren´t conservative. Do all Malays support PAS, especially with the introduction of Hudud law?
Well, Hudud is stated in Qur´an. It´s a law in the Qur´an. No one can change that. It isn´t human and it´s not the people´s power to change god´s law. PAS uses this point to get the Malays. Malays are in a dilemma. If you´re against Qur´an or Hudud or even one part of it, you aren´t a good Muslim anymore.
This means that the main reason for the low number of Malays during the rally was that PAS didn´t join. Did Indians attend?
Yes, there were some of them. They were the minority in Bersih 4. That´s why we say that there weren´t Chinese, Malays or Indians in Bersih, we´re all Malaysians. The race card is played by Barisan Nasional, so don´t follow their step. They tend to play the race card whenever they can.
Bersih was declared illegal and police claimed that they will send the army against Bersih if a state of emergency should be declared. They also said that they will revoke all the scholarships if they will find out that students joined Bersih. There were a lot of threats, so people chose wisely, but things changed slightly after Tun Mahathir (= former Prime Minister) joined Bersih. More Malays joined Bersih afterwards, so Tun Mahathirs attendance had a really great impact on the Malays.
I didn´t understand why Mahathir joined the demonstration. Which role did he play when he turned up? Is he working for his own good or is he really supporting the people? What do you think?
Everyone was surprised when Tun Mahathir came along with Bersih. A reporter asked him why he joined Bersih, because he condemned Bersih last year by saying that demonstrating is the wrong way and that people are demonstrating to topple the government. Suddenly he joined Bersih.
He said that he disagrees with Bersih and its cause, but that he wants Najib to step down. I think this is very selfish, because he´s against demonstrations too. He in forced ISA (= Internal Security Act= detention without trial).
Tun Mahathir has worked a lot against Najib Razak recently. He has criticized him since months. What do you think is his interest to join Bersih?
This is just my opinion: He wants something for his own benefit. Maybe he wants to replace Najib with his son. Maybe it´s because of his plan 2020, which will never be achieved, so it´s like his personal Djihad. He wants to make sure that, whatever he has done for Malaysia for the past 22 years of being a Prime Minister, will be accomplished and he can´t see this happening under Najib Razak´s reign. It´s kind of a selfish person who´s against another selfish person.
Why are you the only one of so many people I know, who attended the demonstration?
I asked my friends many times. I think they don´t like any confrontation with police and with all the threats when they almost graduate. I guess this makes them worry.
There are so many excuses for not attending. I think you need to know some things about Malays: Malays don´t like confrontation. Maybe it´s because of religion. They want to remain the peace. They think that people have to wait for things getting better. This is what Islam is teaching us. They tend to be very passive. That´s the stereotype about Malays. They also have to be very respectful towards the leader and the sultan. I think it´s a really pessimistic perspective. They think ´What can we do about it? Can we change it? I don´t think so.´ They hate it, they hate Najib, they hate all the lies but I don´t think they are working to solve the problems. They feel insecure because of the lies which are spread by Najib against the DAP (= Democratic Action Party) and that the Chinese will take over Malaysia. That makes them think whether Bersih is a good way to solve problems.
So they just want to wait for changes?
Yes and do nothing about it. I´m also very disappointed with this attitude.
What kind of people attended the demonstration?
The oppressed, students, parents and people who are concerned about Malaysia´s future. I don´t see it from that perspective, I just see it like a bunch of people who wants Malaysia to be a very good place for their children. They want equality and what the government promised. We want that Malaysia is a good place, a better nation, a better country.
Do you think that the Malaysians have become more confident to attend further demonstrations?
From Bersih 4, yes, but I don´t know what´s with other demonstrations. Najib says that demonstrating has never belonged to the Malaysian culture and that this won´t change. Every time demonstrations take place, police will interfere. Even small demonstrations will get a lot of resistance from the police and the government, but Bersih is the key, because we move in a very large group. I think Bersih is ok, but I`m not sure about other demonstrations. Without a huge group people won´t join demonstrations.
What´s your wish for the future of Malaysia?
I have a lot of wishes for Malaysia. I wish that Malaysians form themselves to a better nation in many aspects and that they stop to compare themselves with neighboring countries or with Arab nations, for example Syria or Afghanistan. Malaysians always say that they don´t like resistance against the government, because they don´t want us to be like Syria or Afghanistan. They´re very pessimistic and I don´t like that. It doesn´t help. It doesn´t contribute to the better Malaysia. They have to be more ambitious, more aggressive in the way of showing that they care for Malaysia. They should stop relying on the government so much. I think Singapore is a very good example. Singapore was Malaysia before. After they got separated from Malaysia, they became the first developed nation in Southeast Asia. We can learn a lot from Singapore. I think we should compare ourselves more with Singapore. We must have a better and clean government.
The Bersih 4.0 demonstration is an overnight rally which will take place on 29th and 30th of August in Kuala Lumpur (Sogo, Pasar Seni KL, Dataran Maybank, Brickfields and Masjid Negara), Kuching (Padang Merdeka) and Kota Kinabalu (Tanjung Lipat), but the demonstration will also take place in other countries than Malaysia on 29th of August.
The Bersih 4.0 demonstration was an overnight rally which took place on 29 and 30 August in Kuala Lumpur (spread across five locations: Sogo, Pasar Seni KL, Dataran Maybank, Brickfields and Masjid Negara), Kuching (Padang Merdeka) and Kota Kinabalu (Tanjung Lipat). There were Bersih demonstrations in other countries as well.
The rally was organized by “The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections” or simply Bersih (a Malay word meaning clean).Bersih is championing a reform of the current electoral system so that elections are free, clean and fair. Past Bersih rallies were in 2007, 2011, and 2012.
Bersih´s also demands a transparent government, the right to demonstrate, and the strengthening of parliamentary democracy. Bersih 4.0. focused on the resignation of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and on saving the national economy from further decline.
Although the Peaceful Assembly Act legitimized the Bersih 4.0 rally, authorities claimed that the demonstration was illegal and supporters were threatened. One example is the Minister for Higher Education Idris Jusoh who warned undergraduates about participating in the demonstration. Students who participated would face action under the University and University Colleges Act. Although the Malaysian Constitution ensures the right to peaceful demonstration, the police declared the rally illegal, and said that Bersih organisers did not provide sufficient details of the rally.
Supporting Bersih 4.0 carries risks, but why is it important to be part of the movement?
People have real and serious concerns for their safety and well-being. On the one hand, I understand people who are worried about attending demonstrations in Malaysia, but on the other hand demonstrating is the best thing you can do to push for change in a peaceful way. Calling for change as an individual is difficult, but it becomes much easier in a group. Malaysians should demonstrate – no matter their ethnicity, social class, age, and gender.
It is about solidarity and human rights, but it is also about rallying together to save Malaysia and to make sure that it does not become a failed state. Everyone who has observed politics knows that Prime Minister Najib Razak has to resign. His exit is a matter of time, and Bersih 4.0 is playing its part to push for change.
Of course Bersih is unable to change the system of governance which is rotting at the core, nor can it mend economy nor can it attain immediate democracy. Bersih demonstrations are a step forward, towards justice. Bersih can pave the way.
While everyone I met in Malaysia was really friendly and peace-loving, many Malaysians are genuinely worried about their country’s future. Taxes are increasing, while sales remain the same; the standard of living is deteriorating, people are dissatisfied, and discontent and anger run high. How bad will the situation become when economic crisis hits the country and when people have to fight to stay alive? There are enough examples in history books illustrating tragic outcomes.
Furthermore I am the opinion that people should stop complaining about taxes, the weakening ringgit, the injustice which is taking place daily, increasing fuel prices, and so on, if they are not prepared to participate or make themselves heard. A voice functions in many different ways – mostly to communicate with each other – but a voice is also for one to express one’s dissatisfaction. You might think that a single person cannot achieve anything and that a single voice will not change anything, and that there is no reason to attend rallies and support Bersih. But to the contrary, you are not alone and that your voice DOES matter!
You might also think that there are enough individuals raising their voices and already fighting against the very injustices and shortcomings you are concerned about, but is it not lame and unfair to expect others to change the very things you are dissatisfied and unhappy about?
You might think that the problems will be solved somehow and that patience is the answer and that change will come – but this will not happen. Why should politicians change anything if there are no protests and loud voices calling for accountability, justice and change?
Every human being does his/her best for a better life. Human beings can be so driven, striving for money and a luxurious life, but they can be so incredibly laid back and lazy about intangibles such as politics. People often forget the value of democracy which is much more important than money. Demonstrating means fighting for your personal freedom and expressing your beliefs: that the government has no right to oppress you, your family or friends. Politicians are elected by people; they are not chosen by god/Allah or destiny. Politicians must always act in the interest of the state and its people, not for their own personal gains.
If politicians fail in their jobs, and people are calling for a change of government, they have to respect the wishes of their voters: they have to leave. But as we all know, Najib will not simply resign. It is imperative that we have elections in Malaysia are fair, and Bersih and its supporters have to push for fair elections, make their voices heard, and express their dissatisfaction.
But all this is not only about Malaysia and Malaysians. It is also important that people around the world attend Bersih demonstrations – no matter their nationality. It is about empathy: show your Malaysian acquaintances, friends and families that they do not stand alone. In this way, you bring the attention of the international media and the whole world to what is going on in this wonderful country, why its people want change. Not only will demonstrating attract more attention, it will also be an opportunity to inform others.
It´s about numbers: the more people there are who demonstrate, the less likelihood that they will be jailed. The police cannot arrest everyone.
The “1 Malaysia Development Berhad” (= 1MDB) is a development company which is owned by the Malaysian government. The organization was founded in the federal state Terengganu, when it was called “Terengganu Investment Authority”. It should support the economic development in Terengganu. When Najib Razak became Prime Minister in 2009, the company was renamed to 1 Malaysian Development Berhad and was expanded. It should benefit other Malaysian states as well. By creating global partnerships and promoting foreign direct investment it should drive strategic initiatives for a long- term economic development in Malaysia. It focuses especially on areas of energy, real estate, tourism and agribusiness.
1 MDB is led by a board of advisors, a board of directors and a senior management team. The head of the board of advisers is Prime Minister Najib Razak.
In recent times “1 Malaysia Development Berhad” was criticized by several politicians, e.g. by the former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who questioned the credentials of the company because it “has no business address and no appointed auditor.” Furthermore there was a lack of transparency given to the 1 MDB´s accounts, it has debts of 11 billion US$ and massive corruption issues: In 2012 1 MDB made overprized purchases of power assets in Malaysia through the Genting group. It was claimed that the Genting group donated the money to a foundation which is controlled by Najib Razak. But the money was spent for the UMNO election campaign in 2013, which can´t be regarded as something from which citizens can benefit.
When several newspapers like the Wall Street Journal (http://www.wsj.com/articles/scandal-in-malaysia-1436113149) discovered that 1 MDB money was transferred into accounts of the Prime Minister and people who are associated to him in 2015 the highlight of corruption was reached: 700 million US$ were transferred from 1Malayasin Development Berhad to AmBank´s and Affin Bank´s accounts which are registered under Najib Razak´s name.
Until now the Task force has frozen six bank accounts- three of them belong to Prime Minister Najib Razak.
While the Malaysian Prime Minister denies all allegations the Malaysian anti-corruption said that the funds deposited in Najib´Razak´s accounts weren´t money from 1 MDB, but donations. Nevertheless, it wasn´t elaborated who the donor was and therefore seems like a stupid justification.
It seems that Malaysia is sinking in a political chaos at the moment. Najib Razak has claimed that he has nothing to do with the scandal and accused former Prime Minister Mahathir of “political sabotage”. While the opposition is weakened by intern fights, former Prime Minister Mahathir and Najib Razak´s own coalition (UMNO) became the greatest enemies.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said he believed Mahathir worked “hand in glove” with foreigners as part of a campaign “to topple a democratically elected prime minister.” He said these attacks began when he refused to implement Mr Mahathir’s “personal demands”.
Reshuffle of the cabinet
A reshuffle of the cabinet took place when UMNO ministers began to criticize Najib Razak. Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, who had led investigations into 1MDB was replaced by the government. It was claimed that he had to step down because of health reasons.
After former deputy Prime Minister Mr. Muhyiddin called for a more detailed explanation by the prime minister of any involvement, and warned the allegations could hurt the credibility of the government he was replaced with Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was the former home minister and a public supporter of Najib Razak.
Four other ministers who questioned Najib Razak`s credibility were replaced as well.
The Prime Minister explained “I can accept dissent and criticism as part of the process of decision-making. However, as a member of the cabinet, differences of opinion and viewpoint should not be conducted in an open forum that can affect public opinion against the government and the state.”
Absolute loyalty seems to be more important than regarding what´s best for a country. To make it simple: stupidity rules!
Consequences for all Malaysians are rising living costs and the increasing of taxes, which many people can´t afford anymore. Imagine that Malaysia is regarded as an emerging nation. Hopefully it won´t become a failed state. It seems that dark times are rising at least as long as Mr. Najib Razak and his beloved wife Rosmah are still in power.
Until now no one knows where the money went to, but it´s obvious that Prime Minister Najib Razak is avoiding the issue and can´t justify himself. Instead he has initiated several measures which are influencing human rights in Malaysia.
What´s happening to human rights?
First of all “The Edge Media Group” was suspended for three months because it published several reports about the financial scandal over the past year.
The Home Ministry said The Edge’s reports on 1MDB were “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest.” What´s wrong with informing the people what´s going on in the own country? Isn´t this exactly what a serious newspaper should you? Aren´t you serving in the national interest when you´re researching in a good way? And how can you endanger the public order by only giving information?
Obviously freedom of press, which is guaranteed in the federal constitution, was limited. Once again…
But “The Edge Media Group” hasn´t been the only affected one. It also hit the British journalist Clare Rewcastle Brown (the sister-in-law of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown) who is facing an arrest warrant in Malaysia because of her reports on alleged high-level corruption on her Blog Sarawak report.
She´s now receiving police protection after she was followed and photographed in Hyde Park. The UK- based website Sarawak report was blocked by the government.
Activist Adam Adli announced a rally one week after the reshuffling of the cabinet which took place on 1st of August and aimed to get Najib Razak to step down. It was organized by a group which call themselves “Demi Malaysia”.
Although the organizers Adam Adli, Syukri Razab and Mandeep Singh stuck to the rules which were given by the police and therefore were promised not to be arrested, they were arrested one day before the demonstration took place. Adam and Syukri were remanded for six, Mandeep Singh for four days. Adam and Syukri were investigated over a press conference which hasn´t taken place during their arrest. It was claimed that Mandeep was arrested because he supported Adam at the Dang Wangi police distract headquarters, although he was at another location during that time.
It is believed that all three were arrested to prevent them from participating in the #TangkapNajib rally.
Although there were police warnings and those three arrests before the demonstration even took place, around 200 youths and other supporters assembled outside the Sogo shopping complex in Kuala Lumpur to attend the #TangkapNajib rally. Police asked the crowd to disperse while PKR Youth vice Chief Tan Kar Hing was speaking. After the group didn´t follow a wave of detention started. At least 20 people were arrested during the first 30 minutes of the demonstration.
Among them were PKR Youth vice Chief Tan Kar Hing, assemblyman Chang Lih Kang, Fahmi Zainol, Aunty Bersih and loyal Opposition supporter known as Uncle Song. All of them refused to leave the area.
The Bersih demonstration will take place on 29th and 30th of August and I`m sure it´s gonna be huge.
It will be interesting to observe how government and police will handle this demonstration. So many people have already been arrested, that the prison cells should be jam-packed by now.
Regards from Anoymous Malaysia.
Yesterday a video turned up on youtube which was created by the Anonymous group Malaysia. I was quite surprised, because I didn´t know that the group also exists in Malaysia.
The video sends a clear message calling Najib Razak to step down as Prime Minister. Anonymous talks about the crimes Najib Razak committed and claimed that many incidents like the mobile phone stealing which led to a racial fight were initiated by Najib Razak to distract the people from his own person.
Future of Malaysia?
Many people have voiced out against Najib Razak since months. The struggle will continue during the Bersih 4.0 demonstration which will be held on 29th and 30th of August in front of the SOGO shopping complex. The aggression is increasing, people are angry and the atmosphere is tensed.
It´s obvious that Prime Minister Najib Razak has to resign, but like bad leaders do Najib Razak is still fighting for his power by manipulating people and by misusing his power instead of acting in a responsible way and to realize that he lost the fight. But maybe he´s still fortunate and can receive the prize as one of the worst head of states.
It´s also obvious that it will become more difficult to organize and hold demonstrations, but I`m sure that the Malaysians won´t give up. Although things are getting complicated the people still believe in their country, which gives a lot of hope and a reason to believe in the future of Malaysia.
I believe that Najib Razak has to resign, it´s just a question of time. Let´s hope that there will be a better Prime Minister. One who acknowledges human rights, one who´s able to improve the economy and therefore the living standards of the people and one who´s willing to work against corruption, which can bring total destruction to a country and which seriously affects the harmony.