A taste of one’s own medicine

Raja Petra Kamarudin

I had this teacher who once lectured us on the bad habit of smoking. He would constantly stink of nicotine for he was a chain-smoker and we could smell him even before he entered our class. He would notice the smiles on our faces as we glanced at the pack of cigarettes protruding from his top pocket.

“Do as I say,”

said our teacher.

“Don’t do as I do.”

That was in the 1960s in Kuala Kangsar.

My family doctor, Dr K. Menon, was a well-spoken gentleman from Kerala, proud of the fact that Kerala was the only socialist state in India with a 100% literacy rate.

“You must stop smoking, Raja,”

Dr Menon told me.

I glared at the lit cigarette balanced in his fingers. He noticed me looking at it and said,

“Don’t do what I do. Do what I say. I am after all your doctor.”

He took a long drag on the cigarette and said,

“Okay, maybe one or two cigarettes a day should be okay, just to get your juices flowing. That will not kill you. In fact, a peg of brandy in the evening would also be quite therapeutic.”

Okay, maybe the one or two sticks just to help me think, but the brandy is definitely out, no matter how therapeutic it may be.

That was in the 1970s in Kuala Terengganu.

When Reformasi ‘exploded’ I joined the movement because of the ideals it propagated. The main grouses against the government were the abuses and excesses of the powers-that-be. The arrogance of those in power gave them the impression that the law was only for the rakyat (citizens) whereas they were above the law whereby corruption and mismanagement of state assets became a culture and the norm.

Anwar Ibrahim was not really the issue. He was certainly the rallying point or icon of the movement but he certainly was not the cause in the real sense of the word. No doubt the injustices perpetuated against him were bandied about, but this was more as a ‘good reason’ to oppose the establishment. It was in fact a very convenient ‘cause’, something the rakyat could identify with. Nevertheless, Anwar was a convenience that happened to come along at the right time — and if it had not been Anwar it would have been something else. It was a matter of time for Reformasi to hit town, soon after the same phenomena hit Indonesia. It just needed a trigger for Reformasi to touch our shores and Anwar was that trigger. He happened to be in the right place at the right time and he offered Malaysians that excuse to rise against the government.

Amongst the ‘sins’ of the government we were up in arms about — Umno and Barisan Nasional in general and Malaysia Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in particular — other than corruption, abuse of power, mismanagement of the country’ wealth, etc., were stifling of various freedoms and not respecting the fundamental rights of Malaysians.

‘Stifling of freedoms and not respecting fundamental rights’, of course, is a broad phrase. Amongst it would be not allowing students to participate in politics, not allowing gatherings of more than four people and arresting those who persist in doing so, classifying ‘secrets’ that would be damaging to those in power (in particular corrupt acts), requiring publications to obtain permits (but then not approving it if the publication is not complimentary to those in power; such as Seruan Keadilan, the party newspaper of Parti Keadilan Rakyat), charging under the Sedition Act those who voice out, charging under the Official Secrets Act those who reveal the corrupt practices of Ministers, detaining under the Internal Security Act those who oppose the government under the guise that they are threats to national security, and much, much more.

On the eve of Hari Raya Haji (Eid Adha) of 2001, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat Youth Leader, Ezam Mohd Nor, was arrested under the Official Secrets Act for revealing documents that proved certain Ministers had committed acts of corruption. The following day, on Hari Raya Haji, we held a candlelight vigil in front of the Dang Wangi Police Station near Stadium Merdeka where Ezam was being detained. Eight of us were arrested for ‘illegal assembly’, my wife and I included, and we spent the next 24 hours in the police lockup.

A month later, I and nine other Reformasi activists, Ezam included, were detained under the Internal Security Act for planning a demonstration on 14 April 2001, the anniversary of Anwar’s sentencing, dubbed ‘Black 14’. The official announcement was we had planned to bring in bombs, guns, Molotov Cocktails, grenade launchers, and so on, with intent to start a revolution.

Each of us faced many ‘charges’. Mine included being a CIA agent (because I had gone to the United States to campaign for Anwar’s release), inciting a rebellion (because of the many articles I wrote in the Free Anwar Campaign website criticising the government), inciting the people to hate the police (because one of my articles labelling Malaysia a ‘police state’), treason (because I had written an article asking the Selangor Sultan and the entire Royal Council to resign over the Putrajaya issue; Selangor territory illegally given to the Federal Government), and a couple of others (not respecting the Koran, corruption, abuse of power, etc., not amongst my list of ‘crimes’).

In fact, I was warned, I could be given the death sentence on the treason charge alone, just like the Al Maunah crowd, if they decide to charge me in court for this crime. Being the bodoh sombong (pigheaded) person that I am, I defied them to charge me in court where I promised I would openly denounce the Sultan and demand his resignation.

“It is most unfortunate that this is 2001 and not 1801,”

I told my captors,

“If not I would lead a bloody rebellion and dethrone the Sultan and place a suitable successor onto the Selangor throne.”

“Unfortunately, Malaysia has today something called laws, so I am not at liberty to overthrow the Sultan,”

I retorted to my captors who could not believe they were hearing me say this. They just shook their heads in shock and commented,

“You are just begging to be sent to Kamunting.”

“Just try,”

I defied them,

“Just try.”

Anyway, that will be another story for another time which I promise, come the New Year, I will reveal my time under ISA detention.

The point to all this is, I have suffered arrest, detention under the ISA, and much more because of my belief in free speech. Even my wife was arrested just because we believed Ezam did no wrong in revealing the excesses and abuses of those in power.

And we still stand by this belief.

In August 2004, two weeks before Anwar was freed on 2 September, we launched Malaysia Today, what we claim as ‘your source of independent news’ and a ‘no holds barred forum’. It is our belief in freedom of expression that prompted us to embark on this mission. But we are finding that freedom of expression is more than some can handle.

Just like my teacher in the 1960s or Dr Menon in the 1970s, many would prefer we do as they say and not do as they do. They would love for Malaysia Today to whack Umno, Barisan Nasional, the Americans, the Jews, Israel, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Najib Razak, Hishamuddin Hussein, Khairy Jamaluddin, and so on. But never touch one hair of Anwar Ibrahim, PAS, PKR, the Muslims, or anyone or anything dear to their hearts.

Yes, many are always able to dispense medicine. But very few can take a dose of their own medicine. If we whack the government, then we should be open to getting whacked as well. Malaysia Today is not an Anwar Ibrahim website. It is not a Parti Keadilan Rakyat website. It is not an opposition website. It is a free and independent, no holds barred, website. Here, everyone and everything gets whacked.

I don’t always agree with the comments and views posted by readers and columnists. I don’t agree with launching a crusade against PAS because of its Islamic State stand. I don’t agree that Anwar should be defiled because he may rejoin Umno. I don’t agree running down PKR because it appears more like Umno by the day. But if this is the view of some, I respect that view though I reserve the right to disagree with it.

Incidentally, in the late 1970s, I became active in PAS. I was most disappointed when Anwar decided to join Umno in the early 1980s instead of taking over the Presidency of PAS. However, when he decided to take on the Umno Youth leadership, I worked with him. I continued working with him right to the point he made a bid for a Vice President’s seat. In all that time though I was never an Umno member and was still committed to PAS. The late Fadzil Nor, Mustapha Ali, Abdul Hadi Awang, and all the others, knew my stand. I was committed to PAS and to Anwar.

When Anwar decided to make a bid for the Umno Deputy Presidency I moved on. He no longer needed my help and I felt I should spend my time with PAS. When Harakah launched its English Section, Mustapha Ali requested I help out and I became a fulltime columnist writing under the pseudonym Sulong Kamaruddin. Anwar was amongst one of my targets of attack.

Of course, in 1998, when he fell from grace, I again rallied to his side and managed the Free Anwar Campaign. I even ‘left’ PAS to join Parti Keadilan Nasional in April 1999 just to give ‘his party’ my support.

Now Anwar is free. The Free Anwar Campaign is no longer required. What Anwar does now is his business. If he wants to lead the opposition, well and fine. If he wants to rejoin Umno, well and fine as well. More than 20 years ago I had no problems with him joining Umno though I was committed to PAS. Today, I still have no problems with that though I am committed to Reformasi. Anwar will still be my friend nevertheless.

So, he rejoins Umno. So what? I might then rejoin PAS, if PAS will have me that is. In the meantime we all stay in PKR. And Malaysia Today will continue whacking. We will whack Umno. We will whack the powers-that-be. We will whack the opposition. And we will whack the opposition leaders.

And all those opposition supporters and Reformasi activists who for years have been shouting about wanting freedom of speech and the right to criticise, just make sure you don’t mean freedom to only criticise the government but freedom to criticise the opposition as well.

Then and only then will Malaysia Today be a free and independent no holds barred forum.