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"Malaysia's jailed former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim was
hospitalised today amid allegations he was suffering from arsenic
poisoning while incarcerated an Australian testing lab found his urine
contained 77 times the normal level of arsenic " CNN, Sept 10, 1999

It was supposed to be just a quiet Saturday afternoon cleaning the
house. The significant other was mopping the living room and I was
finishing up some office work on the laptop when the handphone rang.

"You're not going to believe this but there are a couple of thousand
people at the National Mosque protesting against Anwar's poisoning.
They're moving off towards the Royal Palace right now ."

The significant other and I immediately left the house and we were at
the Masjid Jamek LRT station by about 3:30 pm. The cleaning could

We walked down Jalan Tun Perak and turned the corner towards Dataran
Merdeka. Rattan-wielding FRU troopers were already blocking the road
at the bridge spanning the Klang River, while a crowd of by-standers
looked on from the Jalan TAR junction. A red water cannon truck drove
by, heading towards Jalan Kuching.

Undaunted, we walked on towards the bridge and were immediately
surrounded by about eight Red Helmets. "Saudara hendak ke mana ini?"
one of the officers asked.

"Hendak terus ke Dataran "

"Maaf saudara. Jalan ini sekarang ditutup. "

When we didn't move back, he said rather obligingly, "Tetapi kalau
saudara hendak teruskan perjalanan, saudara boleh ikut Jalan Benteng
di seberang sungai sana.

"Maaf ya, saudara," he said, as we turned back. "Kami cuma menjalankan

"They were very polite and friendly," the significant other remarked
with some degree of surprise as we walked towards the Benteng. I hoped
they would stay that way for the rest of the day.

We were suddenly struck by a massive downpour and sought shelter in a
café at Lebuh Pasar. At about 5.00 pm, the rain died down and we again
proceeded towards Dataran Merdeka. We didn't get stopped this time and
sat on a bench facing the courthouse building.

No sooner had we warmed our seats when we met some 'stragglers' from
the afternoon's demonstration. "It was just like September 20th last
year except Brother Anwar wasn't there," one young man told me
excitedly, alluding to Anwar's massive rally at the National Mosque on
the day he was arrested. "We dropped leaflets from the mosque balcony
and marched towards the Royal Palace. Then we turned back the FRU
waiting at the palace must have wondered where we were!"

He said the protesters played a cat-and-mouse game with the police for
three hours that afternoon - heading somewhere and then turning
sharply off elsewhere. "We didn't want to give them any opportunity to
start breaking heads."

"We're going for Maghrib prayers at Kampung Baru," another straggler
said, walking towards Jalan TAR. "See you there!"

We sat on the bench for the next half hour. Every now and again, a
familiar face would show up and they would all ask the same cryptic
question: "Mana?". And the response was always just as cryptic:
"Kampung Baru!" A passenger on a passing vehicle rolled down his
window screen. "Mana?" he gestured with his hands. "Kampung Baru!" we
shouted back. After a quick thumbs-up, the driver headed towards
Kampung Baru.

Across the road, a squad of FRU troopers were resting under the porch
of the High Court entrance, next to a pile of shields and red helmets.
About half a dozen police trucks were parked in front of it. I had no
doubt they too would be headed towards Kampung Baru soon.

We got off the train at the Kampung Baru LRT station. On one side of
the river were the cold, glittering steel and glass towers of
Mahathir's Malaysia - the towering edifices of Corporate Malaysia,
with the Petronas Twins Towers dominating all around them. But on the
other side, in stark contrast, were the zinc roofs and wooden plank
walls of Kampung Baru, like a completely different world, with
different people, with different values, different hopes and
aspirations. For on this side of the river was the Malay heartland.

As we made our way through the maze of winding sidestreets and alleys,
dodging playing children and clucking chickens, we understood clearly
why the protesters would wish to end their day here. PAS and Keadilan
flags were flying everywhere. Anwar posters adorned the houses. Flyers
announcing Opposition rallies were pasted on lamp posts and fences.
Cars were bedecked with Reformasi stickers. There was even a simple
wooden shed with 'REFORMASI' spray painted all over it.

When we reached the junction of Jalan Raja Abdullah and Jalan Raja
Alang, FRU and police were already stationed at every street corner
leading to the Kampung Baru mosque. About a dozen FRU officers in
helmets and shields were patrolling the perimeter wall of the mosque,
while protesters gathered at the mosque entrance shouting 'Reformasi!"

As we stood watching the stand-off, half a dozen by-standers stood in
front of us. We knew instantly they were policemen. They all seemed to
have the same brand of black sling bags strapped acoss their chests
and they all sported immaculately-polished shoes. But what really gave
them away were the outlines of the handcuffs in the back pockets of
their tight trousers!

We decided to move away from these 'by-standers' and sat on a low wall
further down the road. Much to our dismay, the little group sat next
to us just minutes later! I was in the middle of working out which
sidestreets and back alleys to take in order to evade our unwanted
guardians when, much to my relief, we were joined by a friend who
worked as the correspondent for an international news agency. "If I'm
going to be arrested today, at least the whole world will know about
it," I thought to myself. Our little group of handcuff-totting
'protesters' soon moved off to another street corner.

At 6:30 pm, I packed the significant other off home in a taxi and
parked myself at one of the teh-tarik stalls facing the mosque. The
babel of conversations centered around just one thing - arsenic.

"Teh tarik satu, kopi-o satu! Kurang gula, kurang arsenik ya!" a
friend ordered as he joi ned me at my table. He showed me a copy of an
AFP article he had printed out from the Internet. "Will you look at
this the public prosecutor says that Anwar's family may have put the
arsenic in his food! Why doesn't he just say that Anwar poisoned

"Just like the way he beat himself up last year !" I added.

He brought out another article from his little collection of
print-outs - this time from the Singapore Straits Times. "The Deputy
Prime Minister says Anwar has been sent to hospital and 'he is fine'.
Doesn't that sound a lot like 'he is safe and sound'!"

"He also said that a special police team will investigate the
allegations," he added. "I hope it's not the same police investigation
team that couldn't find out that their chief of police had beaten the
crap out of Anwar last year!"

Everyone suddenly looked skyward as a helicopter buzzed overhead,
making sweeping circles around the mosque, sometimes flying so low it
almost touched the rooftops of nearby buildings.

"And did you hear what Rafidah Aziz had to say? This whole thing is
just to gain political mileage and world attention. For God's sake,
the man's been poisoned. Does that woman have any shred of decency or

His voice quivered with rage as he spoke. I have never before ever
seen him angry in my life.

"Allahuakbar!". We heard the shout ring loudly and saw dozens of
people running across the road to the mosque entrance. We leapt out of
our seats to see what was happening. But it was only people
distributing copies of an early Monday edition of Harakah. "ANWAR
DIRACUN" the headline said in big, bold, red letters.

"Hidup Anwar! Undur Mahathir!" the protesters shouted, as the crowd
grew larger. People were walking up and down the road selling copies
of Harakah and a traffic jam developed as cars stopped so their
drivers could buy their copy. The huge piles of newspapers heaped on
the side of the road were soon almost all gone.

Another friend joined us. "A reporter just told me Mahathir said that
maybe it's not Anwar's urine!"

We all shook our heads in pure disbelief and shame. I never thought
that even he could go that low.

"Did any of them actually say they were concerned about the man's
health or safety?" my friend asked. No one said a word.

"You know what else he said? Killing politicians is not part of our
country's culture."

The call to prayer rang out as the shouting demonstrators fell silent
and joined the faithful in prayer. As I heard the musical tones of the
Azan break the stillness of the evening air and sipped the last of
my hopefully arsenic-free coffee, I thought of that statement. Killing
politicians is not part of our country's culture. Dragging stained
mattresses into our highest court of law is not part of our country's
culture either. Neither is beating up a former Deputy Prime Minister
in prison. Accusing a wife of poisoning her own husband is hardly
part of our culture. Beating up women and old men on the streets is
not our culture. National leaders talking about masturbation, sodomy
and anuses on national television, in front of our children, is not
our culture. Cronyism, nepotism, corruption - these are not part of
our culture.

"... and if any ruler puts a single one of his subjects to shame, that
shall be a sign that his kingdom shall be destroyed by Almighty God"
That is in the Sejarah Melayu. *That* is part of our culture.

I could only come to one conclusion - our culture has been poisoned

And the sad fact is that it is not only Anwar Ibrahim who has been
poisoned. We are all being poisoned slowly. Unknown to many of us,
little doses of poison, day by day, unseen, undetected, are slowly
killing the things we hold dear to our lives - freedom, justice,
truth, democracy. And their 'poisons' may have different names - ISA,
FRU, OSA, UMNO, TV3 - but they all have the same killing effect on the
democratic institutions we have that protect us all.

Some of us may not be feeling its affects now - that is the beauty of
their 'arsenic' - it kills you slowly, without you knowing it. But
the doses become more lethal day by day, the sickness becomes more
apparent, more glaring, until, the day when you realise something has
gone very wrong - it may already be too late.

Our leaders seem unashamed by what has happened. But if ordinary
Malaysians are still unmoved by the horror of the poisoning of Anwar
Ibrahim, then the poison has really set in. It would have killed the
last of our defences - our sense of humanity and common decency. It
would already be too late.

o o

Sabri Zain


"They invade our space and we fall back.
They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back.
-Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek 'First Contact'

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