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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Time to abolish death sentence

A total of 441 persons had been sentenced to death since 1960 while another 696 are waiting for execution of their death sentences in Malaysian prisons.

GEORGE TOWN: A DAP parliamentarian today called on the government to give a serious re-thinking to abolish the death sentence and substitute it with a more ‘humanely’ life imprisonment

Describing it as ‘a cruel sentence against human rights’, Bukit Bendera MP Liew Chin Tong said the death penalty had proven not to be an effective tool to deter crime.

“Convicts can be prevented from reoffending via life sentence, without the necessity to take their lives,” he argued.

He pointed out that given to the imperfect nature of the justice system, it was impossible to eliminate human error.

However, he said, this flawed system was still being continued to enforce an irreversible and cruel capital punishment that could not deter criminals and prevent crime.

He said a justice system that had not been infallible shall never pass an irreversible and cruel sentence in the name of justice.

“The government should initiate a comprehensive bipartisan discussion on the death penalty.

“It is time for serious rethinking on the death penalty,” said Liew in a statement.

He said in a civilised nation that respected humankind dignity, regard should be had for the legal maxim “better 10 guilty men go free than an innocent man die”.

He cited many nations of seriously rethinking capital punishment as “a barbaric and abhorrent punishment” fundamentally opposed to the nature of human rights.

According to Amnesty International, 30 countries have stopped the use of capital punishment in the last decade.

Liew said in the larger scheme of national safety and crime deterrence, it was crucial for the justice system to ensure that criminals were brought to justice through strong police investigative work with integrity.

“The country’s judicial system shall be just and seen to be just.

“Taking away lives in form of capital punishment has proven could not help to eliminate crime,” he said.

696 awaiting execution

He suggested that for a start, the government should amend the Dangerous Drugs Act to return the discretion of sentencing to the judge.

Currently, the hands of the judges are tied upon conviction as the death penalty was mandatory under Section 39B of the Act.

According to Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s reply to Liew’s question last Thursday in Parliament, 441 persons had been sentenced to death since 1960.

As of on Feb 22 this year, another 696 are waiting for execution of their death sentences in Malaysian prisons.

Of the 441 persons hanged, 228 were involved in drug trafficking and 78 were convicted for murder.

Another 130 were for illegal processions of arms, while four more were convicted for waging war against the King. The remaining one was involved in kidnapping.

Among those awaiting the gallows, 479 convicts were involved in drug trafficking, 204 in murders and 13 in illegal processions of arms.

Some of them are in the process of appealing to overturn their convictions and sentences, while several others are seeking pardons from the Pardon Board of respective states.

Among them, 676 are males while 20 are females, while some 90 percent are between 21 and 50 years old.

Interlok protest: DAP MP, PKR man arrested

They were part of a small group of people who had turned up at the Batu Caves temple this morning to protest against the controversial novel.

KUALA LUMPUR: The police today arrested Teluk Intan MP M Manogaran and PKR division leader MS Arjunan for protesting against the controversial Interlok novel at the Batu Caves Hindu temple.

They were taken to the Gombak police district headquarters for questioning and are expected to be released after their statements had been recorded.

Manogaran, a DAP first-time parliamentarian, and Arjunan, who is also the president of the Malaysian Tamil Students Progressive Associations (MATSAP), arrived at the Batu Caves temple this morning with a small group of supporters to demonstrate against the novel.

They were protesting against the government’s decision to retain Interlok as compulsory reading for Form Five students taking Malay literature.

The anger over the novel has been simmering for months now after it was discovered that the school edition novel contained words which disparaged the Indian community.

A special panel formed by the government last week announced that while certain offensive words would be removed, the novel nevertheless would be retained, much to the disappointment of many Indian groups and politicians who had wanted the novel removed totally for the school syllabus.

Flyer and effigy

Confirming the arrest, Gombak police chief Abdul Rahim Abdullah told FMT that Manogaran and Arjunan have been taken to the police station for investigation.

“There was no demonstration, only a gathering of a small group of people who were expressing their protest against the novel,” he said.

“They had flyers with images of Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak. They also had an effigy. They refused to answer my questions on who was the organiser. They refused to disperse and were trying to divert my questions to them,” he said.

“I had to disperse this group before a bigger crowd gathered,” he added.

He also said that there were no banners or copies of Interlok with the protesting crowd. He said their banners stated ‘Kami tolak novel Interlok’.

He added that the situation at the temple returned to normal following the arrest at about noon.

Anwar taken to task

In a related development, veteran MIC grassroots leader KP Samy questioned why only the Indian leaders of Pakatan Rakyat were making a strong stand on Interlok.

He said that it was unfortunate that senior Pakatan leaders such as PKR’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and PAS president Hadi Awang had not openly called for the novel to be banned in schools.

In fact, Samy added, he remembered Anwar stating that he (Anwar) had no issues with the book which was written by National Laureate, Abdullah Hussain.

“There is no official Pakatan stand on this matter. The ones who make the noise are the Indian leaders in Pakatan and some small level leaders in PAS.

“There have been no opposition as well from leaders such as PKR deputy president Azmin Ali, DAP chairman Karpal Singh or even Kedah Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak of PAS,” he added.

“Would Anwar change his stand now?” asked Samy, a former MIC CWC member.

Samy said that the PKR supremo was answerable to the Indian community on the issue as the community played a key role in helming Pakatan into power in four states during the 2008 general election.

He also said that MIC took a lead in lodging the community’s anger over the matter with the government and managed to remove parts of the offending terms in the novel.

Teluk Intan MP, activist arrested at protest

(Malaysiakini) Teluk Intan Member of Parliament M Manogaran was arrested along with MS Arjunan from the Malaysian Tamil Students Progressive Associations (MATSAP) while demonstrating against the Interlok novel.

batu cave protest against interlok 030411 01Manogaran (second from right), who is from the DAP, and Arjunan (far right) had arrived with a small crowd of activists earlier this morning at the Batu Caves temple complex in Gombak. Kuala Lumpur.

They were demonstrating against the Education Ministry's decision to make Interlok a compulsory reading material for form five students taking the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) exams, this year onwards.

Police moved in and arrested Manogaran and Arjunan around noon, when the former addressed those gathered and urged the Indian community to unite against the introduction of the literature component in the Bahasa Malaysia subject.

Both Manogaran and Arjunan were taken to the Gombak district police headquarters.

They were released at about 2.40pm after their statements were taken.

Earlier in his speech, Arjunan called for the complete scrapping of the textbook as required reading as opposed to mixing parts of it.

“We don't want our government or the education ministry to merely modify a book that is a major problem to the Indian community. The book contains many problems and raises moral issues,” said Arjunan, reading from a statement.

azlan“The Indian community wants Interlok done away with, but why is the government headstrong in this matter? It's our belief that the government wants to portray the community in an ill-manner,” he said.

Arjunan vowed to continue holding strikes until the novel was withdrawn from secondary school syllabus.

Civil society groups representing the Chinese and Indian communities had launched a firestorm of protests against the government for endorsing the novel, which they said disparaged the minority communities and urged for it to be withdrawn.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, however, insisted that the novel will be retained pending amendments to its contents.

Attempt to plug radioactive water leak fails, TEPCO says

Tokyo (CNN) -- A first attempt to plug a cracked concrete shaft that is leaking highly radioactive water into the ocean off Japan failed Saturday, so officials are now exploring alternatives, spokesmen for Tokyo Electric Co. said.

Power plant workers had been trying to fill the shaft with fresh concrete, but that did not change the amount of water coming out of the crack, the spokesmen said at a news conference that ran late into the night Saturday.

Their "plan B" is to use polymers to stop the leak, the spokesmen said. A Tokyo Electric expert will visit the site Sunday morning and decide what polymer to use before the work begins.

Workers will then break the shaft's ceiling and insert the polymer in a different spot from where they tried to place the concrete, they said.

Water from the 2-meter-deep, concrete-lined basin has been seen escaping into the ocean through a roughly 20-centimeter (8-inch) crack, the company said earlier Saturday. The shaft lies behind the turbine plant of the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was heavily damaged in the earthquake and resulting tsunami last month.

Radiation levels in the shaft have been measured at more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour, which is more than 330 times the dose an average resident of an industrialized country naturally receives in a year. Radioactivity above the shaft was measured at 250 millisieverts per hour, said Tokyo Electric, the plant's owner.

Tokyo Electric said it is discussing other methods to use should the polymer fail, but it hasn't identified what those other methods may be.

The discovery of the leak comes after a feverish effort in recent days to explain a sharp spike in contamination in seawater measured just off the plant. Tokyo Electric said the shaft lies next to the water intake for the plant's steam condenser, at the end of a long channel that has been filling with radioactive water for several days.

Officials announced Thursday, based on samples taken the previous afternoon 330 meters (361 yards) off the plant, that seawater showed levels of iodine-131 measuring 4,385 times above the standard and cesium-137 at 527 times beyond normal. Experts say the latter radioactive isotope may be a greater concern because it persists longer, since it takes 30 years to lose half its radiation -- compared to an eight-day half-life for the iodine-131 isotope.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency ordered the utility to start testing water further offshore and to the south, agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama said. Tokyo Electric has now established monitoring posts 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) off the coast, in a line directly offshore, 10 kilometers south, and 16 kilometers south.

Highly radioactive water has also been detected in several reactors' turbine buildings, nearby tunnels and groundwater in the immediate vicinity. But the area around the No. 2 reactor has been of particular concern, because water in an exposed maintenance tunnel leading from its turbine building showed radiation levels more than 100,000 times above typical levels for nuclear coolants.

A two-day project began Saturday to install a camera in that trench to help pinpoint potential leaks, a Tokyo Electric official said.

Spraying was also set to continue this weekend of an experimental new material to lock in radioactive material in and around the nuclear complex so that it doesn't seep further into the air, water or ground.

Crews have dispersed about 2,000 liters (more than 500 gallons) of synthetic resin in a 500-square-meter locale, according to Tokyo Electric. The aim is to hold the released radioactivity on the ground, so it can't interfere with the restoration of the cooling systems aimed at preventing the overheating of nuclear fuel rods in reactors and spent fuel pools at the plant.

"You spray it to hold down the loose contamination, and it acts like a super glue," said Nolan Hertel, a radiation engineering expert at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. "You don't want radiaoactive materials that are loose to get away."

Meanwhile, Nishiyama said there is a plan to inject nonflammable nitrogen into reactors 1, 2 and 3 to prevent the risk of another hydrogen explosion like the ones that extensively damaged the unit 1 and 3 housings in the days following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. A buildup of hydrogen is an early sign of damage to a reactor's superheated core, but Nishiyama said no alarms had been sounded about rising pressure and that adding nitrogen would not force engineers to release hydrogen from the reactor vessel.

"It is only to prevent the accumulation of hydrogen as part of the restoration effort," Nishiyama said.

The continued injection of tons of water into the reactor cores and spent nuclear fuel pools shows that the race to prevent further explosions or widespread releases of radiation into the atmosphere remains far from over.

Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric Co., was heading to Japan to meet with Tokyo Electric about stabilizing the damaged reactors, which were designed by GE, company spokeswoman Deidre Latour said Saturday.

All these efforts come just more than three weeks after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck northeast Japan, effectively wiping out some communities and leading to the deaths of nearly 12,000 people and leaving more than 15,400 missing, according to Japan's National Police Agency.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant was hit hard in the disaster, especially after its primary and back-up systems to cool nuclear fuel in its six reactors and their respective spent nuclear fuel pools failed. Since then, there has been a multifaceted and at times problematic race to prevent explosions (three took place in the days immediately after March 11), the overheating of nuclear fuel and the resulting release of radioactive material into the air, soil and water.

By Saturday, concerns seem to have abated somewhat about the airborne radiation that led to the ordered evacuation of 78,000 people, with another 62,000 living within 20 to 30 kilometers being told to stay indoors. An official with Tokyo Electric said early Saturday that data from eight new monitoring posts around the plant showed airborne radiation levels had stabilized, at between .390 and .0019 millisieverts per hour.

Saturday -- after a stop in Rikuzentakata, in Iwate prefecture -- Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan went to Hironocho, a village in Fukushima prefecture that has served as the operations center for the nuclear crisis effort. The trip, described by the prime minister's office as aimed at boosting morale among utility company workers and soldiers involved in the effort, put Kan on the edge of the 20-kilometer evacuation zone.

"I appreciate your significant contributions in fighting the invisible enemies in this battle, which will determine the fate of Japan," Kan said at J-Village, a soccer complex that has become a staging area for the Fukushima Daiichi operation.

Living under the headscarf

By Elizabeth M. Nunez, CNN

Few items of clothing inspire as much controversy as the hijab, or headscarf. To some it represents oppression or radical Islam.

But to American-born Muslim sisters Dima and Lema Sbenaty, the hijab is a source of pride.

“Before I thought it would bother me to wear a scarf in public. I was surprised to feel that I was proud of my religion and all of my friends," says Dima Sbenaty, 20.

"We all go out together and they’re all wearing headscarves as well. It’s nothing that I’m ashamed of, and that’s part of my strength with my religion.”

The sisters have lived most of their lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Now they are students at Middle Tennessee State University. Lema, a chemistry major, wants to become a pediatrician and dreams of tending to children in Ethiopia. Dima, a biology and chemistry double major, is working toward becoming a dentist. Neither has decided if she will permanently wear a hijab, but both cover during daily prayer.

In Arabic, hijab roughly translates as “barrier” or partition. In Islam, it refers to the principle of modesty in behavior and dress, as described in the Quran: "Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments.”

Women raised in the faith like the Sbenaty sisters say the moment to start wearing a hijab is theirs to choose.

For others who convert to Islam, like Ivy Balloul, a blue-eyed American raised as a Methodist, the hijab comes with her adopted faith. “This was part of me converting to Islam," she said. "You can’t divide it up into little pieces and pick and choose what you want. It’s a whole package.”

Ivy, married to the imam of the Murfreesboro mosque, has received negative comments for wearing a hijab. “One man said to me in the post office that I can take off my scarf, that I’m free here. Another woman felt like I was a traitor. A man called to me one day from his car telling me that, uh, I should go back home.”

But these experiences do not discourage her from covering her head.

“I feel like I have more respect. Before, I could be pumping gas in my car and some guy would whistle or make some type of catcall. It was an uncomfortable situation," she said.

"When you put on a scarf ... [you] know that people can’t look at you as a sexual object. The first time I put it on I felt more comfortable in my own skin.”

Phang: You’re arrogant, Nazri!

The former MACC official calls the government arrogant for defending election handouts and telling Transparency International to mind its own business.

PETALING JAYA: The government’s defence of election handouts is a sign of its disregard for the man on the street, said former Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) official Robert Phang.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz had earlier attacked Transparency International Malaysia (TI-M) for condemning election handouts as corruption.

Phang said that Nazri’s actions showed how arrogant the government was, especially with the Sarawak elections just around the corner.

“Such arrogance against an NGO should not happen as the Barisan Nasional approaches the Sarawak state elections. It only shows the disregard that BN politicians have for the rakyat’s views,” he said in a press statement.

Phang said that the minister should have been more careful with his words, as Malaysians would vote based on what they hear.

“He should be reminded that it is the men and women on the streets who will determine his and his political party’s fate at the ballot box,” he added.

Nazri had previously remarked that election handouts were not a form of corruption.

However, this statement was rubbished by TI-M president Paul Low, who argued that election sweeteners doled out during political campaigns were acts of bribery.

Responding to the accusations, the minister told TI-M to “shut up” and “mind its own business.”

Claiming to have a personal relationship with Nazri, the former TI-M member said: “I can appreciate his urge to be a ‘jantan’ but there is a place and time for that. Be a ‘jantan’ in championing the people’s cause.”

He warned the minister that such statements could confuse the public and would be a “great disservice” to MACC.

“I urge Nazri not to undermine the efforts of MACC Chief Commissioner Abu Kassim. BN politicians will be scorned by the rakyat if they have blinkered views on issues of public importance,” he said.

Gutter politics

In an unrelated matter, Phang said that Malaysian politics had reached a new low through the recent public screening of the alleged Anwar Ibrahim sex tape.

Describing it as a smear campaign against the opposition leader, Phang warned: “This reignites the disgrace we already suffered from being the brunt of scornful jokes in this region.”

The former MACC official also said that Malaysia was in danger of being internationally-known as a “Muslim country obsessed with smut”.

He also blamed the police for doing nothing to prevent such a screening from taking place.

“This public screening at Carcosa Seri Negara would have drawn the attention of the Special Branch and the highest echelons of the police, all the way to the top ministry and political leadership,” Phang said.

He then ridiculed the police, especially the Inspector-General Ismail Omar for not having a clue over the offence committed.

Phang then dragged in Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail, saying that the latter was guilty of practicing selective prosecution in not guiding the police regarding the case.

Gov't lifts ban on printing of Malay Bibles

(Malaysiakini) Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Idris Jala has today revealed a 10-point solution to the Bible controversy.

Christians groups are allowed to import the Bibles in all languages, including Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia without restriction.

economic transformation programme 210910 idris jala 02“These Bibles can also be printed locally in Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.

While there is no requirement for the Bibles in Sabah and Sarawak for any stamp or serial number, those in Peninsula Malaysia must have the words “Christian Publication” and the cross sign printed on the front covers.

“I hope this 10-point solution will be received positively by the Christian groups as being fair and reasonable. We have to look for a solution that deals with the Bible issues and also put a way forward to handle other issues raised by the Christian groups,” said Idris.

He conceded that the government and the civil servants are not perfect “as indeed all human beings are 'beautifully imperfect' in the eyes of God”.

"And for all our shortcomings in handling the Bible issue, I hope the Christians would find it in their hearts to forgive us.”

Below is the full statement by Idris:

The government confirmed that it has been in dialogue with the Christian groups to look into their specific requests on the Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia Bible and also other religious issues. Taking into account the polarity of views of the different religious groups, including the Muslims, the government decided on a 10-point solution.

1. Bibles in all languages can be imported into the country, including Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia.

2. These Bibles can also be printed locally in Peninsula Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. This is a new development which should be welcomed by the Christian groups.

3. Bibles in indigenous languages of Sabah and Sarawak such as Iban, Kadazan-Dusun and Lun Bawang can also be printed locally and imported.

4. For Sabah and Sarawak, in recognition of the large Christian community in these states, there are no conditions attached to the importation and local printing of the Bibles in all languages, including Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia and indigenous languages. There is no requirement for any stamp or serial number.

5. Taking into account the interest of the larger Muslim community for Peninsula Malaysia, Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia/Indonesia, imported or printed, must have the words “Christian Publication” and the cross sign printed on the front covers.

6. In the spirit of 1Malaysia and recognising that many people travel between Sabah and Sarawak and Peninsula Malaysia, there should be no prohibitions and restrictions for people who bring along their Bibles and Christian materials on such travel.

7. A directive on the Bible has been issued by the ketua setiausaha (KSU) of the Home Ministry to ensure proper implementation of this cabinet decision. Failure to comply will subject the officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders. A comprehensive briefing by top officials, including the attorney-general (AG), will be given to all relevant civil servants to ensure good understanding and proper implementation of the directive.

8. For the impounded Bibles in Kuching, Gideon, the importer can collect all the 30,000 Bibles free of charge. We undertake to ensure the parties involved are reimbursed. The same offer remains available for the importer of the 5,100 Bibles in Port Klang, which have already been collected by the Bible Society Malaysia (BSM) last week.

9. Beyond the Bible issue, the government wishes to reiterate its commitment to work with the Christian groups and all the different religious groups in order to address inter religious issues and work towards the fulfilment of all religious aspirations in accordance with the constitution, taking into account the other relevant laws of the country. In order to bring urgency to this work, the prime minister will meet the representatives of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) soon to discuss the way forward.

10. The Christian ministers in the cabinet will meet on a regular basis with representatives of the various Christian groups in order to discuss their issues and work with the relevant ministries and PM in order to resolve them.