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Saturday, December 29, 2012

India mourns death of gang-rape victim

Protesters gather in New Delhi to pay their respects to gang-rape victim who died from organ failure in Singapore.

Shocked Indians are mourning the death of a woman who was gang-raped and beaten on a bus in New Delhi nearly two weeks ago in an ordeal that galvanized people to demand greater protection for women from sexual violence.

Mourners began gathering at Jantar Mantar in the capital on Saturday to express their grief and demand stronger protection for women and the death penalty for rape, which is now punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment.

Dozens of students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in south Delhi marched silently to the bus stop from where the rape victim and her friend had boarded the bus on December 16.

They carried placards reading "She is not with us but her story must awaken us.''

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred and that it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young woman's death would not have been in vain.

Meanwhile, six suspects held in connction with the rape were officially charged with murder on Saturday, a police spokesman said.

"They have been charged (with murder)," said Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for New Delhi police.

The 23-year-old medical student victim "passed away peacefully'' at 4:45 am (2045 GMT) on Saturday at Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore with her family and officials of the Indian Embassy by her side, Kevin Loh, the chief executive of the hospital, said in a statement.

After 10 days at a hospital in New Delhi, the Indian capital, the woman was brought on Thursday to Mount Elizabeth, which specialises in multi-organ transplants.

Loh said the woman had been in extremely critical condition since Thursday, and by late Friday her condition had taken a turn for the worse, with her vital signs deteriorating.

"She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds, but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome,'' Loh said.

Security alert

Her body is to be flown back to India later in the day.

The frightening nature of the crime shocked Indians, who have come out in the thousands for almost daily demonstrations.

As news of the victim's death reached New Delhi early Saturday, hundreds of policemen sealed off the high-security India Gate area, where the seat of India's government is located.

Indian authorities also closed 10 metro stations and banned vehicles from some main roads in the heart of New Delhi, where demonstrators have converged since the attack to demand improved women's rights.

The woman, who has not been identified, and a male friend were returning home from the cinema by bus on December 16 when six men on the bus beat them with metal rods and repeatedly raped the woman.

Media said a rod was used in the rape, causing internal injuries. Both were thrown from the bus. The male friend survived the attack.

New Delhi has the highest number of sex crimes among India's major cities, with a rape reported on average every 18 hours, according to police figures.

Government data show the number of reported rape cases in the country rose by nearly 17 percent between 2007 and 2011.

Source:Agencies

Stateless persons and Umno’s denial syndromme

The government does not categorise them. To categorise them will mean to expose the problem and that means trouble.
COMMENT

N Ganesan

There is an extremely large number of Malaysian who were born here, lived here and who would die here, but who had been thought fit not to be considered citizens of the country, in direct contravention of their natural right.

They are instead awarded “Red IC” status. These people are the politically maimed people of Malaysia. They carry with them this disability wherever they go and for as long as they live in Malaysia. There could be several hundred thousands of such politically maimed people in the country.

And as a way to obscure the problem, the government just does not categorise them. To categorise them would mean to expose the problem and that means trouble. It is a non-starter. In not categorising these people as stateless, the Umno/BN government is saying that these people are not stateless. If they are not stateless then why are they not given their citizenships when they meet all justifiable requirements.

Are these people stateless or not? This is a fundamental question that we need a clear answer for.

According to the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which is almost 50 years old, the following is the definition for stateless persons: “Stateless person” means a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”

All Red IC holders in Malaysia are not considered as nationals by Malaysia under the operation of its law. They do not have the same rights as those considered nationals.

Most Red IC holders in Malaysia are not nationals of any other state either. So by this UN definition of the stateless persons, all
Malaysian Red IC holders who are not nationals of any other country are clearly stateless persons in Malaysia. That is the answer we get when we seek credible sources to answer this question.

But this is not the way Red IC holders are considered in the Umno/BN scheme of things.

Red IC holders are not here nor there. If these people are not nationals and they are not stateless – just what are they?

The Malaysian government is using this halfway position of Red IC holders to intentionally cover up the truth of the magnitude of the stateless persons problem in Malaysia. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak says there are only 9,000 stateless persons by Umno/BN’s narrow and convenient definition of stateless persons.

What is equally if not more worrisome is this denial syndrome.

It is a bigger problem than the problem of statelessness itself. Given the weak position that Umno and BN find themselves in, and their sore need for their fixed deposits to come back to them, it would behoove them to accept the problem squarely, come clean and take measures to resolving this statelessness problem for what it truly is.

They should address this problem on the basis of sound principles so that they would be seen to be atoning for their past failures and
being sincere about their commitments to their fixed deposits. But they just do not seem to be able to do that. They continue to be senselessly manipulative and opportunistic.

If you consider the myriad of problems the country faces and the inability of Umno/BN to deal with them in effective ways, it only tells about what we can expect under the continued rule of Umno/BN, even with the prospect of a hung Parliament.

There would just be more cover-ups, more lies and more manipulation just to maintain status quo. Status quo at any price seems to be their unsaid imperative.

The true Malaysia would never be able to stand up.

N Ganesan is Hindraf’s national advisor

Sikh group: Fatwa on Allah ban 'illegal and void'


The National Fatwa Council’s ban of the non-Muslims’ use of the word ‘Allah’ is unconstitutional, said the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council (MGC) representing the Sikh community.

The ban that Penang mufti Hassan Ahmad was reported repeating on Wednesday is wrong on two counts, said MGC president Jagir Singh in a statement yesterday.

NONEFirstly, he said, a fatwa does not apply to non-Muslims, and secondly, Article 11(4) of the federal constitution does not support any such prohibition on non-Muslims.

Jagir cited the 2009 High Court decision on the Catholic publication Herald’s use of the word ‘Allah’, which deemed that laws restricting its use by non-Muslims would also be construed “unconstitutional”.

Therefore, he said, Hassan’s statement is “irreconcilable with the constitution”.

“Fatwas are advisory in nature and do not apply to non-Muslims. Moreover, any fatwa issued that contradicts the supreme law of the land (the federal constitution) would be illegal and void.”

He also argued that state legislations’ attempts to ban usage of certain words based on Article 11(4) - that prohibits the propagation of other faiths to Muslims - did not apply to non-Muslims.

“Even a first-year law student will know that Article 11(4) does not prohibit the use of such words by non-Muslims,” he said, adding that the judgement on the Herald case pressed the point home.

‘State enactments subject to constitution’

On Wednesday, Sinar Harian reported Hassan reminding Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng that, “The Penang mufti’s department has decided that words such as ‘Allah’, ‘takwa’, ‘haji’ and ‘masjid’ can only be used by Muslims.

“The rule was enforced during Pakatan Rakyat’s regime and agreed by Lim as the chief minister, in which he has been notified and regulations have been enacted,” Hassan was reported saying.

dapsy agm 091212 lim guan engThe mufti was responding to Lim’s (left) Christmas Day message that took a swipe at Prime Minister Najib Razak for the government appealing the Herald ruling and thus keeping the controversy alive.

Jagir said that while Hassan has pointed out enactments on 40 words that non-Muslims cannot use, including ‘Allah’, the non-Muslim community had not supported such enactments.

He recounted how the then Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (the Taoists at the time were not yet members) in 1988 objected to the Perak’s ‘Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religious Bill 1988'.

The council had at the time told the state that some of the prohibited words were “pre-Islamic and have been used by non-Muslims for centuries... Muslims and Christians in 33 countries are using the same word ‘Allah’”.

NONEThe state was also informed that, “In the case of the Sikhs, most of the prohibited words (in the proposed Bill) are in use in their holy scripture and in their exegetical texts... we must in all conscience reject this Perak Bill,” said Jagir.

“The Middle East countries and our neighbour Indonesia allow for the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims,” he said, adding that the matter had only been politicised and made an issue in Malaysia since the late 1980s.

He advised Hassan to “study the constitution” and the 2009 Herald court decision.

“The mere passing of the enactments cannot override the constitution and may be unconstitutional,” he said, adding that it is the Federal Court’s duty to decide on the constitutionality of enacted laws of the states,” he said.

Deepak land deal outright bribery, says Rafizi

PKR said it will lobby the Selangor government to block the Defence Ministry's Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera’s (LTAT) purchase of a piece of land related to the controversy between businessperson Deepak Jaikishan and Selangor Umno Wanita chief Raja Ropiaah Abdullah.
This is because the land is located in Selangor and requires the state government's approval for the sale to proceed.
NONEPKR strategies director Rafizi Ramli (right) described the deal - to buy a 80 percent stake in Deepak's company Astacanggih Sdn Bhd for RM30 million and a 200-acre plot of land from Raja Ropiaah's Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd for RM130 million - as “worse than a bailout” as it was an attempt to pay off all parties and silence them.

"The only welfare that is taken care of in this deal is the Selangor Umno Wanita leader (Raja Ropiaah), Deepak and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

“For us, to take this RM160 million, I wouldn't even call it a bailout, this is outright bribery to pay and silence them," he told a press conference at the party's headquarters in Petaling Jaya this morning.

LTAT's investment vehicle Boustead Holding Sdn Bhd had announced that it will, through its wholly-owned subsidiary Bakti Wira Development Sdn Bhd, make the purchase.

Rafizi said: "Previously PKR has been reluctant to get involved because we were worried this could be a set up, and we deemed this as Deepak's personal affairs.

NONE“However, PKR is stepping in because it now involves RM160 million of public money. This money is coming from the military men's pension funds."
Rafizi accused Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi (left) of abusing his power by instructing LTAT to fork out RM160 million to resolve this scandal.

"We have already lost RM250 million on cows because of a minister, we don't want to lose another RM160 million of pensioner's money because of another minister," he said in reference to the National Feedlot Corporation scandal.
He said the since the land is in Selangor, it land cannot be transacted without the state government approval but conceded that it has no power in stopping the purchase of shares in Astacanggih.
"For the RM30 million that will be used to buy shares in Astacanggih, it is maybe as good as gone, but we will do everything we can to save the remaining RM130 million," he said.

'No commercial sense'

Under an initial deal, Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd had reportedly agreed to surrender a land parcel of 200 acres of out 223 acres that it received from the government as payment for the construction of the National Defence Research Centre (Puspahanas) to Deepak's company in exchange for a land bond and cash.

NONEDeepak (right) who claimed he made substantial financial contributions to the Najib's family for endorsement of this deal, did not receive the land after holding up his end of the bargain, thus began launching a series of damaging attacks against Najib, demanding that premier intervene.

However, Rafizi said a search found the title of the said land has yet to be transferred to Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd and is still with the government, the same plot land now being purchased by the Defence Ministry's LTAT.

"So technically the Defence Ministry is paying RM130 million for a land that does not exist because it still does not belong to Awan Megah, the land title is with the government," he said.

Aside from this, Rafizi said there were several indications that the latest deal was a political one and made no commercial sense.
Rafizi said the unusual deal has also lent credibility and veracity to Deepak's allegations.
Among the indications are:
  • Astacanggih has a RM20 million paid-up capital but a whopping RM98 million debt;
  • Astacanggih appears to be a shell company, has no assets and has never filed accounts with Companies Commission;
  • Acqusition of 80 percent of Astacanggih shares for RM30 million is not based on independent valuation;
  • Acquisition of 200 acres of land from Awan Megah is also not based on independent valuation; and,
  • A 2005 valuation of neighbouring land there valued it at RM390,000 per acre, LTAT is acquiring at the plot for RM650,000 per acre.
"It is obvious now that our assumption (doubts about Deepak's allegations) was inaccurate. Deepak's accusations are being viewed seriously and proven to have made Najib panic that he would have Zahid resolve the matter for him," he added.

As such, Rafizi said PKR will next week also begin making public evidence concerning Deepak's allegations against Najib.

Yesterday, Deepak admitted he had gone through with this latest deal that would cut his losses but claimed he was forced into it.

Bitter about not getting the land and the RM130 million that his rival's company would receive from it, he Deepak vowed to continue his expose of the premier.

I was forced to sell off my company, says Deepak

Businessperson Deepak Jaikishan today admitted that he has sold his estranged company Astacanggih Sdn Bhd for RM30 million to a Defence Ministry agency, claiming that he was forced into the deal.

NONEHe said the deal was only to cover the money he had spent in a land deal with Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd that turned sour, and had grudgingly gone through with it despite being denied the lands promised to him.

“It is true that my shareholders and me have sold our shares in Asta Canggih for RM30 million which is our actual cost price of RM13 million for Raja Ropiaah, RM8 million in political contributions, RM7 million of financial costs and RM2 million in legal and miscellaneous costs.

“This was an ultimatum that was forced upon us,” he said in a text message today, but did not mention names.
The statement today comes after Boustead Holding Bhd, the investment vehicle of Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT), an agency under the Defence Ministry, announced on Bursa Malaysia that it will be acquiring an 80 percent stake in Astacanggih Sdn Bhd, which was owned by Deepak.
Abrupt move to withdraw lawsuit
Boustead Holdings Bhd, which purchased the stake through its wholly-owned subsidiary Bakti Wira Development Sdn Bhd, said it will also acquire 80.94 hectares of freehold land in Klang from Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd for RM130 million.

This coincided with Deepak’s abrupt move to withdraw his lawsuit against Selangor Umno Wanita chief Raja Ropiaah Abdullah and her company Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd, yesterday for the same piece of land.

“The irony is that Raja Ropiaah who ‘stole’ the land from us was paid RM130 million, guess that is real power, isn’t it?” he said.
Raja Ropiaah’s company has reportedly denied it.

Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd was tasked by the government to construct the National Defence Research Centre (Puspahanas) in Putrajaya for which the Defence Ministry would pay the company RM27 million and 223 acres or 90.24ha of land in Klang worth RM72.5 million.

However, after they were unable to obtain a land bond for the building's construction, the company had engaged Deepak's Astacanggih Sdn Bhd for help.

Deepak had claimed that in this deal, his company Astacanggih Sdn Bhd would issue a RM72.5 million land bond on behalf of Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd.

It will also give Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd an additional RM23 million, RM13 million of which was already paid, in exchange for 200 acres or 80.94ha of the land which the latter will receive from the Defence Ministry. Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd will keep the remaining 23 acres or 9.3ha of the land.

However, the deal became sour after Deepak claimed that the latter had not upheld her end of the deal.

'Mindef buying up own land'
As LTAT is a unit under the Defence Ministry (Mindef), Deepak pointed out that the latest deal meant that the Defence Ministry was effectively buying back its own land which it gave to Raja Ropiaah at an inflated rate.

NONE“LTAT, ironically, bought their own land which they had given to Raja Ropiaah (for Puspahanas) for RM72.5 million at RM130 million, giving Raja Ropiaah a profit of RM57.5 million plus RM13 million from us... and remaining 23 acres worth RM40 million (which it still has).

“The losers are the Defence Ministry and army officers who get cheated by Umno and cheated again by having to buy back the military land at double the price they gave it away for.

“Looks like Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi (above) has become Santa Claus,” he said.
Winners and losers
Raja Ropiaah/Awam Megah
Gains:
1. RM27 million from Defence Ministry in privatisation agreement.
2. RM13 million from Deepak in bank bond deal.
3. RM130 million from Boustead to buy the 200-acre land.
Question:

1. Has the RM100 million National Defence Study Centre being constructed and handed over to government according to the privatisation agreement?
Deepak/Astacanggih
Gains:
1. RM30 million from Boustead for 80% of Astacanggih share.
Lost:
1. RM13 million deposit payment to Roppiah in bank bond deal.
2. Cost to secure the land bond - unknown.
Defence Ministry/LTAT
Lost:
1. RM30 million to Deepak for 80% of Astacanggih share.
2. RM130 million to Roppiah for the 200-acre land. The land worth RM72.5 million when it was alienated to Roppiah in the privatisation agreement.

From surface value, the Defence Ministry or LTAT could suffered as much as RM87.5 million – RM30 million for Astacanggih share and RM57.5 million lost in land transaction.

Bitter over land deal, Deepak vows continued expose

land deal diagram deepak

1,000 at orange rally to demand Isa's resignation


India gang-rape victim dies in Singapore

Hospital says 23-year-old woman who was raped and severely beaten by six men in New Delhi has died from her injuries.

Doctors say a young Indian woman who was gang-raped and severely beaten on a bus in New Delhi has died at a Singapore hospital.

A statement by Singapore's Mount Elizabeth hospital where the 23-year-old victim was being treated said she "died peacefully" early on Saturday.

Al Jazeera's Divya Gopalan, repoting from New Delhi, siad: "She has been in hospital since the attack happened on December 16, she has been in hospital in very serious condition... just a few days ago they said her condition had worsened so they sent her to Singapore for treatment at a hospital that specialises in organ transplants."

Gopalan continued: "She flew over there just over a day ago and doctors said once she arrived there she started receiving treatment again. Just a few hours ago they said she had multiple organ failure and they were trying to treat her with antibiotics."

The horrific ordeal of the woman galvanized Indians, who have held almost daily demonstrations to demand greater protection from sexual violence, from groping to rape, that impacts thousands of women every day, but which often goes unreported.

She and a male friend were traveling in a public bus on December 16 evening when they were attacked by six men who raped her and beat them both.

They also inserted the rod in her body, stripped both naked and threw them off the bus on a road.

Student's Tongue Cut in Possible Islamist Attack

An Indian man in Bonn claims to have been attacked and had his tongue lacerated by Islamists. He told police that a pair of perpetrators demanded that he convert to Islam before the assault. Police believe his story to be credible

Police in Bonn are investigating a possible attack on a 24-year-old Indian man who claims to have been the victim of an assault by two Islamists on Christmas Eve. The man, a university student had to be treated at a local hospital for a lacerated tongue following the attack.

According to the victim, he was approached by two men who asked him what his religion was before demanding that he convert to Islam. Otherwise, the men said, he was an infidel and his tongue would have to be cut out. Then, as the man tried to walk away, the two assailants attacked him from behind, the victim told police. A passerby happened across the bleeding victim and called an ambulance. He was treated at the hospital and then released.

Police investigators believe the man's story to be credible and also believe that the incident could indeed have been the work of Islamists. He described the perpetrators as having long beards but no moustaches, a style often preferred by Salafists. There were, however, no witnesses to the attack and police are currently searching for suspects.

It is not the first time this year that Bonn has hit the headlines as a result of possible Islamist activity. In May, a Salafist was arrested after stabbing two police officers during a counter-demonstration against a display of Muhammad caricatures by a local right-wing populist party. Earlier this month, another member of the orthodox Muslim group threatened to take a hostage in order to force the perpetrator's release from prison.

Also in Dember, a bag full of explosives was found on a platform in Bonn's main train station in an apparent attempted bomb attack. While no charges have been filed in that case, clues reportedly lead to the Salafist community.

cgh -- with wire reports

Refugees scuffle as advocates protest detention

SEVEN people including a staff member were injured in a Christmas Eve scuffle between asylum seekers in the Australian immigration detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, confirmed seven people sustained minor injuries in the clash between Tamils and Iranians.

It is believed the incident was in the internet room, when the Iranian detainees tried to recruit the Tamil detainees to protest, and the Tamils refused.

A staff member for G4S, the company contracted to run the centre on behalf of the Australian government, was among those hurt. All were treated on site.

PNG police attended the centre and spoke to witnesses but have not taken any action. An investigation is ongoing.

The minister's spokesman said after the incident about 20 Iranian detainees staged a sit-in in the internet room for much of the day, before ending their protest voluntarily. About 130 people are being held on Manus Island, including women and about 30 children.

The centre is holding detainees from Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. News of the incident came as lawyers and human rights advocates strongly criticised proposals before Parliament which would extend offshore processing to any asylum seeker who reached the Australian mainland by boat without authorisation. Currently, asylum seekers who reach the mainland by boat cannot be transferred to Nauru or PNG for offshore processing, unlike those who reach outlying islands.

The change was one of the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by the former defence chief Angus Houston, the refugee advocate Paris Aristotle and the Foreign Affairs secretary Michael L'Estrange.

In its submission to a Senate inquiry into the bill, the Australian Human Rights Commission said the proposal risked breaching numerous rights and obligations, including the right to freedom from arbitrary detention, the right to humane treatment, and the obligation not to penalise asylum seekers for arriving without authorisation.

In its submission,the Law Council of Australia said the proposal was ''inconsistent with the spirit and purpose'' of the refugee convention to which Australia is a party, and undermined Australia's obligations under other human rights conventions.

The Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre said the proposal to effectively excise the Australian continent from the migration zone was ''unnecessary, perpetuates a legal fiction which continues to represent no more than an irresponsible avoidance of international obligations to which Australia has committed, and will likely cause damage to those people we have committed to protect.''

It said the bill perpetuated discriminatory treatment of refugees who arrived by boat, compared with those who arrived by air, with or without authorisation. People had a right to seek protection from persecution, regardless of their manner of arrival.

The centre said by denying asylum seekers, who were transferred offshore, access to the Australian legal system and due legal process Australia risked breaching its obligation not to return people to harm.

A spokesman for Mr Bowen said the bill aimed to prevent people from attempting the more dangerous journey to the Australian mainland to secure a different outcome.

Athens - the EU capital city without a mosque

Muslims worship in an improvised prayer room in Athens  
Some 300,000 Muslims are said to live in Athens

(BBC) At Friday prayers and across Athens, Muslims gather in underground, cramped prayer rooms.

The makeshift facilities are illegal but this huge community faces no other option. Athens, a metropolis on the edge of the Muslim world, is one of the few EU capitals without a mosque.

Since Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832, no government has allowed a mosque to be built in the city. It was seen by many as "un-Greek" - out of place in a country in which much more than 90% of the population are Orthodox Christians.

But as Greece has become the main entry point for migrants to the EU, its Muslim population has swelled.

Some estimates place the number of Muslims in Athens alone at around 300,000, in a city with a population of around five million, and the clamour for an official place of prayer is growing.

"It is a very big tragedy for us Muslims that there is no mosque here," says Syed Mohammad Jamil from the Pakistan-Hellenic Society.

"Greece produced democracy and civilisation and the respect of religion - but they don't respect our Muslims to provide us with a regular, legal mosque."

One of the Friday worshippers, Ashifaq Ahmad, says: "I feel somehow cut off from society.

"When we have a celebration, there is nowhere proper for us to get together. Society is not accepting us."
Barracks plan

Pressure on the government to provide a secure, protected mosque has grown as the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party continues to rise.

Its members stand accused of beating immigrants and vandalising some of the underground prayer rooms.

The party's deputy, Ilias Panagiotaros, told me earlier in the year that landmines should be placed on Greece's border with Turkey, saying: "If immigrants die trying to jump into our country, that's their problem."

Now perhaps the call for a place of worship may be answered.

A disused army barracks near the city centre has been chosen as a site for the capital's first mosque.

Behind heavy gates lie old buildings, broken glass and rubble strewn across the floors. The crumbling shells currently there would be torn down, making space for a mosque that could accommodate 500 people.

If it is built, Muslims entering would catch sight of a small church next door, the two religions finally operating officially shoulder to shoulder.

The government insists the project will go ahead, but similar plans have been promised in the past - only to fall foul of political infighting.

And the financial crisis could still blow the idea off course. A government struggling to afford schoolbooks or healthcare may find it hard to announce 1m euros (£814,000; $1.3m) for a state-funded mosque.

"In the past, there was a fear in some segments of Greek society about constructing a mosque but we must overcome that fear," says Stratos Simopoulos, the secretary general of the ministry for development.

"The financial crisis is a problem. The government has other priorities for now, but this mosque must be constructed and we may be in a position to start the process in a few months."

I ask whether he is committed to the plan.

"Of course", he replies, "because it's not my commitment - it's a commitment of the Greek state."

And yet there is still resistance within the country.
'Islamic tyranny'

The Greek Church has warmed to the mosque idea but some senior ecclesiastical figures remain opposed.

In a packed service in St Nicolas's Church in Piraeus, just outside Athens, the strength of religious devotion is clear.

Members of the congregation kiss the icons and repeatedly cross themselves. Orthodox Christianity goes to the heart of what it means to be Greek and the Bishop here, Seraphim, says his nation must preserve its identity.

"Greece suffered five centuries of Islamic tyranny under Turkish rule and building a mosque would offend the martyrs who freed us," he says.

Greece, he adds, "does not hate anyone" but he believes that "most Muslims have come here illegally" to, as he puts it, "Islamise Europe".

I put it to him that his position appears Islamophobic, out of touch with a multicultural European Union, and his response may betray other prejudices too.

"We are not a multicultural country," the Greek bishop says. "We are one Greek nation and everything else is an invention of the 'new order' and of Zionism. They are trying to corrupt our character."
'Hypocrisy'

On the streets of Athens, opinions are mixed.

"Muslims should have their temple," says Kali Patounia, a banker.

"Greek immigrants in other countries build their own churches and perform their own religion, so it's hypocritical."

Marios, a student, disagrees. "We must not have a mosque here," he tells me.

"This is a Christian country and if they want a mosque, they can go back to their own countries and have one."

Religion is intrinsic to national identity here and Church and state are closely linked. The mosque issue has become a symbol of what sort of state today's Greece is willing to become.

The financial crisis has made this nation more inward-looking, more fearful.

However for Greece the decision is whether to extend its hand fully to Islam - and whether its capital will no longer stand alone in Europe.

Funds row: ‘MIC must bite the bullet’

A MIC central working committee member admits that there is a screw-up in disbursing funds meant for Tamil schools.

PETALING JAYA: A MIC leader has urged his party to be more transparent concerning the RM100 million allocated for Tamil schools.

“The time has come for us to admit that we have made a boo-boo on the logistics. There is no use in beating around the bush. We have to learn to bite the bullet,” said S Vell Paari.

The MIC central working committee member said this in response to MIC secretary-general S Murugesan who defended party chief G Palanivel against allegations that the party squandered the money.

On Dec 17, SS2 Tengah MIC branch chairman S Padnmanagan accused Palanivel of depriving 145 partially-aided Tamil schools of allocations this year even though the Cabinet had approved RM100 million for the upgrading works of 369 partially-aided Tamil schools.

Vell Paari, who is also MIC communication chief, said the Cabinet had initially given the green light to Koperasi Suria to handle the money but backtracked later.

“The money has always been with the Education Ministry, not us,” he said.

He added that he was not aware of the people involved in handling the logistics of the funds but revealed that an initial study showed there was a shortage.

“Cutting the number of recipient schools is not right. They should have informed the government to obtain more funds and fix the problem,” he said.

To avoid controversies such as the current one, he suggested the formation of a separate independent committee to ensure that the funds were given out properly.

“The committee should be made up of professionals from the Indian community who are corporate leaders, members of the civil society and MIC representatives,” he explained.

Entrepreneurs fund

On the issue of RM180 million for Indian entrepreneurs, Vell Paari said the criteria to obtain the funds should be relaxed.

“The criteria are the same as bank loan applications. In this case why would an entrepreneur need to see MIC?” said Vell Paari in response to calls from Malaysian Indian Business Association (Miba) president P Sivakumar who wanted MIC to reveal the exact figures.

On Wednesday, Sivakumar said: “Out of the RM180 million that was allocated, only RM30 million is justifiable through Tekun. Perhaps another RM20 million can be justified through the Small and Medium Enterprise Corporation Malaysia (SME). But what about the other RM130 million?”

Sivakumar told FMT that RM130 million was dispersed to financial institutions to be given out as business related loans via the Islamic concept and it is a hassle for Indians to apply for loans due to the non-flexible requirement.

In response to Sivakumar’s contention, Special Secretariat for Empowerment of Indian Entrepreneurs (SEED) director AT Kumararajah revealed that RM24.37 million had been given out so far to 643 applicants.

Kumararajah pointed out that SEED was an initiative by the Prime Minister’s Department and not MIC to assist in giving out the RM180 million allocated for the Indian community.

Kumararajah also claimed that the lack of discipline and responsibility among applicants such as delays in producing documents for loans as reasons for their failure in obtaining the funds.

SEED is a MIC initiative

Responding to Kumararajah’s statement, Vell Paari refuted claims that SEED was an initiative by the Prime Minister’s Department.

“If MIC is not involved, the prime minister would not need MIC anymore. If MIC is not involved, what is Kumararajah doing there?

“SEED is a MIC initiative. Palanivel is there because it was set up under the Cabinet committee for Indian affairs,” said Vell Paari who explained that the initiative was his brainchild from a blueprint for the Indian community covering various aspects.

“SEED was 0.01% of a blueprint that I presented during a CWC meeting in December 2010. The blueprint is like the setting for an Indian Affairs Department,” he said, adding that the SEED idea was later presented to the Cabinet committee on Indian affairs.

On Kumararajah’s argument that the applicants did not provide proper documentation, Vell Paari said: “If the applicants were well organised they wouldn’t come to us.”

Elaborating further, he said that SEED should reach out to Indians the way the MyDaftar campaign was conducted.

He added that one of the reasons for My Daftar’s success was because the staff assist in every aspect so that the people could obtain their documentation.

The MyDaftar programme is meant for people to obtain birth certificate and identification cards.

The May 13 truth: Time to declassify documents

If Umno is really interested in the truth, surely the simplest solution is to declassify our own files, especially those kept by the Special Branch, says Kua Kia Soong.
COMMENT

By Kua Kia Soong

The call by the Umno Youth leader for The Edge to retract their story about “May 13” is laughable when National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) is just about to release their much trumpeted film ‘Tanda Putera’ which is aimed at reinforcing Umno’s version of the incident.

The director of the film has said as much, that the film is aimed at contradicting the thesis of my 2007 title that the racial violence was a veiled coup detat by the emergent state capitalists in Umno against the aristocrats under Tunku Abdul Rahman.

The continued postponement of the film’s release is as perplexing as the continued postponement of the appeal by the two men sentenced for the murder of the Mongolian lass, Altantuya.

Is the government apprehensive about the negative reaction many Malaysians will have toward the film? Has the Special Branch already submitted their intelligence to the government, warning them that this tired old official version of May 13 would only serve to enhance anti-Umno voting behaviour?

The continued postponement for the release of this film is a smack in the face of the film director who appears to have little, if any, artistic freedom in the project at all and who at the same time, seems content to be a compliant accomplice in this historical cover-up.

Open the SB files

Much has been made by non-academic Umno hacks that my 2007 title relied on declassified documents from (foreign) British sources, as if researchers are incapable of separating the facts from fiction.

Malaysian historians, whether they are the official apologists or the more radical, know that the British were more inclined toward supporting Umno and the Alliance than the communists or the opposition as part of the neo-colonialist solution at Independence.

In fact, in the book I pointed out the hypocrisy of the British in justifying an arms deal for the Home Guard when the outside world was condemning the racial violence and the partiality of the Malaysian security forces.

Still, these documents reveal the innermost thoughts of the British officials and their own intelligence. They are the equivalent of the Wikileaks that have been made available to us to read today.

But let’s talk about the elephant in the room – our own classified documents on the May 13 racial violence of 1969.

If Umno is really interested in the truth, surely the simplest solution is to declassify our own files, especially those kept by the Special Branch.

I still remember the cocky boast made by my Special Branch Interrogation Officers when I was detained under the ISA in 1987, that their archives at Bukit Aman are better than any university library in the country. I can believe them.

So is the government interested in what really happened in May 1969: who started the violence; who were the “hidden hands” alluded to in Said Zahari’s immortal poem on the incident; how many casualties were there really?

Or are they more interested in their status quo and peddling the same old story that we no longer believe in?

Malaysians should give their votes only to candidates who are committed to the enactment of a Freedom of Information Act and the repeal of the Official Secrets Act.

Truth and reconciliation

Our country cannot trundle along in this way, relying on Biro Tatanegara-type methods to portray history.

We can no longer allow this dark episode in our history to be used as a political threat to frighten the people every time the status quo feels challenged. In order for this issue to be laid to rest, all the relevant facts need to be made visible and the dead named and honoured through the convening of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC). As with the South African TRC,

“… a truth & reconciliation commission is a necessary exercise to enable (us) to come to terms with (our) past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.”

Apart from the testimonies of all the people affected by the May 13 violence and their families, the May 13 TRC needs to be given access to all the classified documents in the country, especially those in the reportedly excellent Special Branch library and those in the possession of the Cabinet.

Only then will we be able to lay to rest the ghosts of May 13 and finally become a society at peace with itself.

Kua Kia Soong, a former ISA detainee, human rights movement Suaram’s advisor.

NGO buat laporan polis terhadap pegawai kedutaan Sri Lanka

Presiden Tamil Progresive Team, A Kalaimughilan mendakwa pegawai berkenaan menghina Malaysia ketika beliau pergi ke kedutaan tersebut semalam.

PETALING JAYA: Presiden sebuah NGO membuat laporan polis terhadap seorang pegawai tinggi Kedutaan Sri Lanka di Kuala Lumpur kerana mendakwa pegawai berkenaan menghina Malaysia ketika pergi ke kedutaan tersebut semalam.

Presiden Tamil Progresive Team, A Kalaimughilan membuat laporan tersebut di balai polis Pudu, petang semalam.

Menurutnya, beliau membuat laporan polis tersebut kerana mendakwa pegawai berkenaan telah menghina Malaysia.

Kalaimughilan berkata, beliau membawa tiga pekerja muda warga Sri Lanka yang didakwa didera, pukul dan tidak dibayar gaji serta paspot dipegang oleh majikannya di Johor.

Bagaimanapun, beliau mendakwa pegawai tinggi kedutaan Sri Lanka itu telah menghalau beliau dan tiga pekerja berkenaan.

“Pegawai tersebut memberitahu saya, NGO tidak boleh masuk ke kedutaan Sri Lanka. Dia juga berkata tanah ini milik kerajaan Sri Lanka.

“Beliau hanya mendiamkan diri apabila saya berkata, tanah kedutaan itu milik kerajaan Malaysia,” kata Kalaimughilan.

Penjelasan Kedutaan Sri Lanka

Timbalan Pesuruhjaya Suruhanjaya Tinggi Sri Lanka Sunny Vickramasinghe ketika dihubungi berkata Kalaimughilan menceroboh masuk ke dalam kawasan kedutaan.

Kawasan kedutaan mempunyai tahap keselamatan setara dengan negara asing, katanya.

“Kalaimughilan datang bersama bapanya dan seorang jurugambar. Mereka masuk ke kawasan kedutaan setelah mendakwa bahawa mereka adalah majikan.

“Ini kawasan larangan. Mana boleh mereka ambil gambar. Penyambut tamu pejabat kami turut dikasari,” kata beliau.

Sunny menambah seorang dari tiga pekerja tersebut memohon untuk mendapat status pelarian manakala dua lagi merupakan pendatang haram.

“Sebagai NGO mereka membantu ketiga-tiga mereka untuk membayar denda RM400 di Jabatan Imigresen. Pihak kami sanggup mengeluarkan pas agar mereka boleh pulang,”katanya.

Sunny turut bahawa pihaknya tidak mahu berurusan dengan Kalaimughilan yang mempunyai rekod sebagai penyokong pejuang Tamil Eelam.

‘I am priceless, I cannot be bought’

He vows to continue on his mission to expose more dirt, especially against the Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

PETALING JAYA: Deepak Jaikishan has declared himself as someone who cannot be bought over or silenced in response to his sudden decision to withdraw a multi-million ringgit legal suit against a Wanita Umno leader yesterday.

“I cannot be bought. I am not for sale. I am priceless,” Deepak told FMT today.

Apart from the withdrawal of his suit againt Selangor Umno Wanita chief Senator Raja Ropiaah Abdullah, yesterday also saw a government investment company puchasing a 80% stake in a company in which he is a director, prompting many to believe Deepak has been bought over by the powers-that-be for his silence.

The carpet dealer claimed that he was forced to sell his company, Astacanggih Sdn Bhd for RM30 million to Boustead Holdings Bhd, saying that “very harsh conditions were imposed on me to keep quiet.”

But when asked, he did not reveal details of these conditions, and simply explained that he was given a “very nice love letter from the government” that threatened him with an “ultimatum” and very direct warnings.

He vowed that he would continue on his mission to expose more dirt, especially against Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

He said that he would be holding a press conference on Jan 1 in which he would launch his booklet “Black Rose” and documents to prove “you know who” gave payments to private investigator P Balasubramaniam.

Deepak said that the deal of RM30 million had only covered the money he had invested into the land deal gone sour with Awan Megah Sdn Bhd, linked to Raja Ropiaah, to which the court case was withdrawn.

“It is true that my shareholders and me have sold our shares in Astacanggih for RM30 million which is our actual cost price of RM13 million for Raja Ropiaah, RM8 million in political contributions, RM7 million of financial costs and RM2 million in legal and miscellaneous costs.

“This was an ultimatum that was forced upon us,” he said in an SMS message to the media today.

Deepak complained that the irony was that Raja Ropiaah, whom he claimed “stole” the land from his company, had gotten much more from the land deal.

“Why would I let it go at only RM30 million? I go home with the money I have actually invested. I am paid what I paid. Money given back to me. Raja Ropiaah, on the other hand, get’s RM130 million, what the %*&^… guess that is real power isn’t it,” he said, explaining that the market price for the 200 plus-acre-land is now RM400 million.

Defence Ministry the losers

He added that another irony was that the defence ministry was buying “their own land that they sold to Raja Ropiaah in the first place.”

“LTAT bought their own land which they sold to Raja Ropiaah for RM72.5 million at RM130 million, giving her a profit of RM57.5 million plus RM13 million from us and RM18 million from Guppyunip totalling RM88 million and 20 acres of land worth RM40 million.

“The losers are the defence minister and army officers who get cheated by Umno and cheating again by having to buy back the military land at double the price they sold it,” said Deepak in another SMS.

“Add all that up, and Raja Ropiaah is a very rich lady, maybe as rich as Shahrizat,” he said, adding that despite all that, the government seems to be listening to her and not the truth.

“Just because she is Umno. I guess very soon they will make statues of these people and ask us to pray to them like Gods. Because they have become above the law, they have become like immortals. Let’s work together and get these corrupt people.”

No support from Anwar

Deepak also lamented that he has been pushed to a corner by all sides and worse still, he was receiving no support from even the opposition.

“You know very well Anwar Ibrahim met me, but he has denied it. What is happening here? The future prime minister also doesn’t want to admit to this,” he said, adding that the meeting occurred before his case first went to trial in November.

He said he called Anwar but the latter said he was scared to meet him. “If you [Anwar] don’t have the guts to come up front … you’re not going to be fight for me,” he said.

“This is truth against the lie, truth versus the system. I can’t have a wheeler dealer politician helping me. I need the media. I don’t have a political agenda. I said upfront that I want justice. They ask who is behind me. My answer to them is that I have the blessings of God behind me.”

PKR smells a rat in carpet man’s deal

PKR's Rafizi Ramli says it is no coincidence that a government investment firm has purchased Deepak Jaikishan's company.

PETALING JAYA: The buying of “carpet man” Deepak Jaikishan’s firm Astacanggih Sdn Bhd which coincided with the withdrawal of his lawsuit against a Wanita Umno leader’s company over a Defence Ministry land deal yesterday, points towards abuse of power by the government, said an opposition leader.

PKR’s strategy director Rafizi Ramli was commenting on the purchase by a unit of a government investment company Boustead Holdings Bhd, which acquired an 80% stake in Astacanggih for RM30 million.

He claimed that it was “no coincidence” and that this pointed towards an “abuse of power” by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi, adding that he was “shocked at the audacity by Najib and Zahid” to make such a move in full view of the public.

“This is clearly the worse investment decision ever taken up by Boustead, and we need some answers from Najib, who has a long history when he was defence minister with majority shareholders Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera [LTAT], which is something owned by the public, especially the servicemen and is something like EPF. We also want to hear from the current minister. To me, it is outright abuse of power,” he told FMT.

“This is the point that I think has turned the Deepak issue from sensationalised rumour mongering to clearly an issue of public accountability that needs to be pursued. PKR will start the ball rolling here, I think this is more serious that the NFC [National Feedlot Corporation] scandal, let’s see if it snowballs into something bigger,” said Rafizi, who would be holding a press conference tomorrow on the matter.

Rafizi also said that his checks so far found that Astacanggih did not have any track record in terms of financial information or balance sheet being filed.

“The whole deal is shielded in secrecy and we found out that the only thing the company has is a RM98 million loan owing to Kuwait Finance House. I can tell you that RM30 million is defintely above premium.

“In normal investment circumstances, nobody would buy a company like this, one that is entangled with a land deal that did not go through,” he said, referring to the court case involving Deepak’s company and Selangor Wanita Umno chief Senator Raja Ropiaah Abdullah, who was a director in Awan Megah (M) Sdn Bhd.

Rafizi said that the only asset in connection to Awam Megah, which was also purchased by Boustead, for RM130 million, was a land that was still under dispute and the land title was still uncertain.

“I can only conclude that no sane financier or accountant or developer would enter into this unless it is for something else. This is where circumstances are too suspicious, plus it is on the very same day that Deepak actually dropped a legal suit against the federal government,” he added.

Rafizi said that PKR and Pakatan Rakyat planned to go to town with how Najib had sacrificed the servicemen’s interest just to silence Deepak.

Case withdrawn

Yesterday, FMT reported that Deepak dropped the lawsuit against Awan Megah, a vehicle for Raja Ropiaah, without clear reasons given.

On the same day, Bernama reported that a unit of Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera investment vehicle Boustead Holdings Bhd acquired an 80% stake in Astacanggih Sdn Bhd for RM30 million.

In a filing with Bursa Malaysia, Boustead’s wholly-owned unit, Bakti Wira Development Sdn Bhd, acquired the shares from Prestige Dimension Sdn Bhd and other minority shareholders of Astacanggih on Dec 20.

Bakti Wira Development and Astacanggih also signed an agreement with Awan Megah yesterday to acquire 80.94ha of freehold land in Klang, Selangor, for RM130 million.

Boustead said the share purchase and land acquisition would be funded via bank borrowings and internally-generated funds. Boustead explained the acquisition would present an opportunity for the group to expand its land bank.

Previously, Deepak, through Astacanggih, had filed the legal suit with the Kuala Lumpur High Court naming the Malaysian government, Syarikat Tanah Harta Sdn Bhd, Awan Megah and Cebur Megah Development Sdn Bhd, in which he is also a director, as defendants for breach of agreement over the 233.33 acres of land.

Awan Megah had filed a counter-claim in response.

High Court judge Zabariah Mohd Yusof had earlier struck out the Malaysian government, Syarikat Tanah Harta and Cebur Megah as defendants in the suit, a decision later upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Deepak claimed that he had agreed to buy three parcels of land totalling 223.33 acres in 2007 for RM13 million and a RM72 million bank guarantee for a land bond from Raja Ropiaah.

Raja Ropiaah was apparently awarded a RM100 million privatisation deal for the development of the defence research centre called Pusat Pengajian Pertahanan Nasional (Puspahanas).

But the Selangor Wanita Umno chief then allegedly sold one parcel for RM2 million cash and a RM16 million overdraft facility in a “joint venture” with Guppyunip Sdn Bhd, a company specialising in plasticware.

The carpet dealer then put a caveat on the land in Bukit Raja seeking parts of the land back, claiming that Astacanggih had the rights to them.

Since the details of the case became public, Deepak started giving media interviews, especially for the online portals, on his alleged role in the cover up of the Altantuya Shaariibuu murder.

He had named Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor as the person who had personally asked him to work on private investigator P Balasubramaniam to reverse a statutory declaration which had originally linked Najib to Altantuya.

Penang Muslim Network takes to the streets over ‘Allah’ issue

Penang Muslim Network members demonstrate over the “Allah” issue at Masjid Simpang Enam near Komtar. — Picture by K.E. Ooi
GEORGE TOWN, Dec 28 — Penang Muslim Network (JMPP) members marched 500 metres from a mosque in Macalister Road to Komtar after Friday prayers today to demand an apology from DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng over his call for the federal government to allow the use of the word “Allah” in Malay-language bibles.

The group comprising about 50 members, led by JMPP coordinator Mohd Hafiz Mohd Nordin, carried banners demanding that “Father Joseph Lim Guan Eng” apologise and retract his statement as they started the march at about 2pm.

Two Federal Reserve Unit trucks and several police patrol units were already waiting for the demonstrators at the Komtar underpass where the demonstrators stopped and shouted through loud hailers.

Earlier, a scuffle almost broke out when the police tried to stop the demonstrators from marching to Komtar after they gathered in front of the mosque.

However, after a brief negotiation between the members of the group and the police, they were allowed to march through the busy Penang Road, effectively closing off the whole road and bringing traffic to a standstill.

At the Komtar underpass, the group recited a prayer and shouted for Lim, who is also Penang chief minister, to retract his statement and also for Muslims in Penang not to trust Pakatan Rakyat (PR).

“Even in delivering a Christmas message, he had to include such religious sentiments against the Muslims, this showed how insensitive and discriminatory the PR and DAP are,” claimed Mohd Hafiz.

He also said Lim’s statement is not only an insult to all Muslims in the country but also an insult to the King.
Police monitor the demonstration at Komtar. — Picture by K.E. Ooi
On Monday, Lim issued a Christmas message where he urged the federal government to allow the use of the word “Allah” in the Bahasa Malaysia version of the Christian Bible for east Malaysia, the Alkitab.

This created a huge uproar with even PAS joining in to insist that Christians should not use “Allah” in the Alkitab as it does not reflect the actual meaning of “God” in the original text.

The Internet is also rife with Muslim blogs criticising Lim over his statement and demanding that he issue a retraction and apologise.

Today, DAP national chairman Karpal Singh called for calm over this issue while pointing out that many non-Muslims in the country use the word too.

He explained that the word “Allah” appears 37 times in the Sikh bible, and is also used by the Orang Asli community as well as the Peranakan community in Malacca.

“What the chief minister said in his Christmas message should not hurt the feelings of Muslims. Nothing sinister should be read into what the chief minister said. The chief minister did not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings,” Karpal said.

Many Christians in east Malaysia use the Alkitab as well as the word “Allah” to refer to God.

In recent years, there has been a tug-of-war between the Christian and Muslim religious communities over the word “Allah” with the latter insisting that the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim god so it should be exclusive to them.

The matter was also brought to the courts but it remains unresolved as the Catholic Church is still barred from using the word in its weekly newspaper despite winning the legal tussle in a court decision on December 31, 2009.

This is because the Home Ministry had filed an appeal against that decision in January 2010, which has since stagnated as no date has been set for its hearing.

Last year, shipments of the Alkitab were blocked or confiscated at ports, before the government finally bowed to pressure and released them.
Mohd Hafiz Mohd Nordin addresses rally participants. — Picture by K.E. Ooi

Stop demanding religious equality, says ex-Fatwa Council chief

Malaysian Muslims insist that the word “Allah” should be exclusive to them. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 28 ― Non-Muslims should drop their demand to use “Allah” for their gods as the Arabic word is fundamental to Islamic belief and therefore exclusive to Muslims, National Fatwa Council former chairman Datuk Dr Ismail Ibrahim was reported saying in a Malay daily.

Ismail was weighing in on the latest debate over the Arabic word for god, in a row between Islamist opposition party PAS and its secular ally, DAP, which appears to be a hot-button topic in the run-up to national polls due soon.

“Enough is enough, enough with all the other policies, including the ones enshrined in the Constitution that has been claimed for equality, to be granted equal rights... therefore the right to recognise the concept of the divinity in this religion, don’t grab, challenge and manipulate so. The name ‘Allah’ is still something basic and fundamental to Islam.

“The name ‘Allah’, from a philosophical point, its definition and concept is not equal with the name Tuhan, God, Lord and so on in the usage of other religions,” he was quoted as saying by Sinar Harian in its front-page report today.

Ismail was further reported saying those insisting the word “Allah” be allowed for use in Malay bibles should desist due to linguistic and cultural differences.

He gave an example that Arabs could swear by the word “Wallahi” hundreds of times in their daily conversation but the oath was incomparable to that understood by Muslim Malaysians in the local language and that this difference between an ordinary oath and the Syariah term was explained in the Quran.

“The same, therefore, with the use of the name ‘Allah’ that is being attempted to be compared with other languages, especially Arabic, even though this comparison should be understood from a linguistic and cultural angle between Malay and Arabic,” Ismail told the newspaper.

Without naming anyone, he urged the parties against looking for petty reasons to justify the usage of “Allah” for the Christian god.

Christians form 9.2 per cent of Malaysia’s 28.3 million-strong population, with many in east Malaysia using the Malay language and the word “Allah” to refer to their God.

In recent years, the Christian and Muslim religious communities have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the word “Allah”, with the latter group arguing that its use should be exclusive to them on the grounds that Islam is monotheistic and the word “Allah” denotes the Muslim god.

A legal tussle over the use of the word “Allah” remains unresolved, with the Catholic Church still barred from publishing the word in its weekly newspaper, despite winning a High Court decision on December 31, 2009.

This is due to the Home Ministry filing an appeal in January 2010 against the High Court’s decision, which has since stagnated in the courts as no date has been set for its hearing.

Last year, shipments of the Alkitab, the Malay-language Bible catering to the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Bumiputera Christians, were blocked from entry or confiscated at ports, before the government finally bowed to pressure and released them.

Malaise in Malaysia: Corruption in High Places

It is an accepted cliché that power corrupts and is usually in reference to a country's leaders and their ability to amass private fortunes at the expense of their electorate. But the real tragedy is how corruption corrodes civil society. It creates cynicism, anger or voter apathy, with people losing confidence in politicians and therefore losing their connection with democracy. If the problem cannot be solved through the ballot box because of a corrupt electoral system, then a country is really in trouble.

Malaysia may not be in big trouble yet. While it still has a robust free press and whistleblowers are protected, the current issues have a chance to be addressed fairly. But the media is under pressure to conform and whistleblowers have been arrested instead of the corrupt officials. One of the foundations of the fight against corruption is the need to protect the messenger, and while many countries are being urged to adopt such legislation, it is only effective if respected and enforced.

Malaysia ranked 60th out of 182 nations last year in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, down four places from 2010, when 178 countries were included. Two recent scandals have rocked the establishment party of UMNO, bringing disrepute to people in high places from the Prime Minister down. The Scorpene submarines deal has exposed the hypocrisy of leaders who pledge to end corruption yet proceed as if winning elections is all about self-enrichment.

Malaysia was a signatory of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2008 with a legal obligation to "prevent, investigate and prosecute" cases of international corruption. However, a complaisant majority party and judiciary allow for delays in hearings, refusals to release documents and in the case of the submarines deal, to deny that French law has jurisdiction over Malaysian transactions. The French government however, is actively pursuing its own inquiry and has released over 153 documents making it clear that apart from individuals, the ruling party (UMNO) was the biggest beneficiary, receiving commissions, bribes and support fees in the millions.

In spite of government harassment, the civil rights organization, SUARAM, is determined to uncover the truth in its pursuit for accountability and stated in a May 2012 press conference in Bangkok, that it will continue to make the results public as the case proceeds in the French Court.

Another scandal has recently become public and tarnished the reputation of a former government minister and family members when it was revealed that National Feedlot Corporation funds were misused for the purchase of condominiums using Malaysian government funds. Government patronage over the years has involved highway construction and defense contracts and a variety of other government arrangements with UMNO cronies. Prime Minister Najib Razak, who chairs the Finance Ministry Acquisition Committee, is in the powerful position of being able to award contracts and to charge whistleblowers instead as a smokescreen to protect his friends.

PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim has condemned such politically-motivated charges and his party is setting up a National Oversight and Whistleblower Centre to offer future informants protection via legal and monetary aid. Anwar promises to end corruption and dissatisfaction with UMNO and has been reinforcing the popularity of the PKR. But while the integrity of the electoral process is in doubt and the institutions responsible for anti-corruption and the rule of law have been compromised, it is difficult to foresee how the next election will play out.

It is ironic that the shining example of democracy, the U.S., has also been undergoing problems with electoral integrity, as right-wing public officials attempted to purge electoral rolls of potential Democratic electors, proving that nothing is safe, even in a democracy, if the judicial system is underpinned by a right-leaning Supreme Court.

Anwar Ibrahim is being hounded by the Prime Minister Najib Razak and the ruling party UMNO, and after surviving trumped up charges and years in prison under a previous administration, Anwar is used to having his reputation slandered by the opposition. However, the victimization is proving counterproductive as his popularity is increasing and his message of moderation, inclusion and hope is resonating with his growing coalition as well as the center.

Anwar may not yet have the following to counter the strength of UMNO, with its entrenched 20 years of patronage creating a loyal party base especially in rural communities, but he certainly has the attention of those who want to see Malaysia's democracy strengthen and mature. The educated voters of Malaysia hope that Anwar Ibrahim will be their country's next Prime Minister, leading Malaysia to an incorruptible leadership role in the global community.

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

Don’t bribe us with our money! Malaysians are not that stupid

najib-in-penang
The Prime Minister seems to be playing Santa Claus. He is very generously dishing out goodies from seemingly bottomless coffers, convinced that Malaysians are a greedy, unthinking lot who can be bought easily.

Little does he realise that the Malaysians of today are a very perceptive and discerning lot who can see through his election ploy.

They know that the money that is being doled out does not come from Barisan Nasional coffers. If that was the case, then Malaysians can be grateful to the BN. But when he uses the people’s money to bribe them and expects them to be grateful to the BN, it is insulting their intelligence.

The new-found concern and compassion for Malaysians is very telling. It is nothing but a bait to fish for votes that will keep the BN in power. Malaysians will not fall for this ruse.

Housing has been a great problem for Penangites for the last thirty over years. The soaring prices have put houses beyond the reach of average Penangites. Thousands of Penangites have moved to the mainland to buy houses. An equal number of Penangites have bought houses in Kulim and Sungai Petani simply because they could not afford houses on the island.

The narrow streets and poor public transport had created horrendous congestion and pollution for Penangites, making their lives a nightmare. But this problem did not suddenly confront Penangites with the change in government on 8 March 2008. It has always been there.

Hardly anything substantive has been done by the BN to redress these problems. This neglect continued despite Penang producing a Prime Minister in the past. Penang has been marginalised for many decades. That is a fact.

The housing problem confronting Penangites has been there all along. Najib should have known this. He was the Deputy Prime Minister for more than five years after which he became Prime Minister, a position he has been holding for more than three years. In other words, he was in the forefront of the nation’s leadership for almost nine years.

How has he been blind to this grave situation all this while? He must have known this; yet he did nothing to alleviate the misery of the poor in Penang. He did nothing to solve this problem even when he became the Finance Minister.

It is not a question of finance for not building the much-needed houses in Penang. The BN seems to be never short of cash! It only means that the BN did not care for Penang in spite of the continued support that the BN received from Penang every time there was an election. We were just taken for granted!

During his visit to Penang on 8 December 2012, Najib said that “the opposition had failed to deliver on promises of affordable housing made when campaigning during the last election”. He further alleged, “They had promised that they would resolve the housing issue within two weeks of coming to power”.

I don’t seem to remember such a promise being made. If it was true that the opposition promised to solve the housing issue within two weeks of coming to power, then they must be stupid. Can houses be built that fast? The opposition has been in power for more than four years. With limited resources and burdened with carried forward debts, can this be solved within this period?

Let’s take a look at Najib’s promise. He promised to build 20,000 houses for Penang. He stated that under the 1Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme, “the first PRIMA project will involve some 2,000 units in Kampung Kastam, Bukit Glugor”. The ground-breaking for the project is expected to be next year and the project is slated for completion 36 months later.

In other words, with all the resources and expertise at hand, it would take the federal government three years just to build 2,000 houses. Yet he expects the opposition to build houses in “two weeks”!

What kind of houses is the BN going to build? According to him, “if the current unit costs RM500,000, we will sell it around RM300,000 only”. In would mean a 40 per cent discount. But the RM200,000 discount has to be absorbed by the government. It would cost RM400,000,000. For the 20,000 units promised, the government will have to fork out four billion ringgit!

What would be the monthly instalment for these houses? Who can afford to pay such instalments?

Now, even if the houses are to be bought at RM300,000, who will be buying these houses? Can the homeless poor and the low-income earners afford to buy these houses? Where is the BN’s concern for the poor? All their talk about caring for the poor and taking care of their welfare is now exposed as empty talk. There is no housing solution for the poor!

Why is the BN unable to start building immediately? According to him, federal-owned land and that belonging to agencies like the Penang Regional Development Authority, JKP Sdn Bhd and Syarikat Perumahan Nasional Bhd are available for this project. This land has been available for many years; so why was no attempt made previously to build houses to ease the housing problem. Why wait until next year?

This is where the BN comes across as hypocritical. He is making a conditional promise expecting support to be returned to power in order to build the houses. He is coercing Penangites to vote for BN. He did not say that these houses would be built irrespective of the outcome of the election results. He did not say that the BN will build these houses even if it lost the elections.

Will Najib dare to declare that he will build the promised houses even if Penangites voted for the opposition?

Prove your sincerity by making such a declaration. Malaysians are not that stupid. They will not be bribed with their own money!

P Ramakrishnan
Aliran executive committee member

Orang asli in dire straits

The Star 
by ISABELLE LAI

GUA MUSANG: Years of protests have come to naught for an estimated 10,000 orang asli who are living in dire straits due to extensive logging and forest conversion in Kelantan.

Orang asli activists, who have accused the state government of turning a deaf ear to their grouses, are now upping the ante in the battle to have their land rights legally recognised.

One of them, Dendy Johari, 20, claimed that Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat's administration was not taking responsibility for their welfare.

“The MB must understand our problems as they affect us directly, day in and day out. We are not greedy for a lot of land.

“We just want our native territory to be ours and left unspoiled.

“We want to live in a forest full of natural resources.”

He said the orang asli were also disappointed with the state Orang Asli Development Department (Jakoa) as it had not assisted them despite numerous complaints about logging.

Water tanks were installed at the villages in 2010 but the water ran out within weeks, he claimed.

“We joked that the water tanks in the villages were mere decorative items. What use are they?

“We still rely on the river for our water needs,” he said.

Another orang asli activist, Awir Awe, said their villages, while left untouched, were surrounded by vast areas of logged forest which had been converted to monocrop industrial plantations, including latex timber clone plantations.

This has affected their livelihood as they depended on the forests for their food and materials for their craftwork, medicine and other daily requirements.

The logging, he claimed, had also muddied the rivers, while pesticide use in plantations had triggered fears of water pollution and health issues.

However, Awir said the orang asli were no longer taking the pillaging of what they deemed as their “native territory (wilayah adat)” lying down.

They are outraged that all of these activities have been done throughout the years with scant regard for their well-being as well as no prior consultation with them.

Awir is one of a rising number of people who have been fighting for their land rights to be legally recognised by the state government.

Memorandums had been sent, protests and blockades held, and complaints made but to no avail, he claimed.

“Now we are compiling evidence of the history of our occupation in this territory to show how we have used the land for years. Then we will bring this to the court, we will never give up,” he said.

He said they had also documented the chronology of events whenever a new area had been breached, including details about the company involved and the complaints made.

Due to the logging, Awir said even small animals such as squirrels, monkeys and wildboar that the orang asli hunted for food were becoming rare.

“It takes us six hours to hunt for game. When the rivers turn muddy, our rice turns red when we cook it because we have no other water source,” he said.

Kg Guling resident Adi Buru, 54, said all land surrounding the village had been converted into an oil palm plantation without prior engagement with the orang asli.

“Because of the polluted river as well, our children have worms in their stomachs and often have diarrhoea,” he said.

Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 To Be Presented To Cabinet Next Month, Says Muhyiddin

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 28 (Bernama) -- Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said Friday the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 would be presented to the Cabinet next month.

Muhyiddin, who is also Education Minister, said that after the Cabinet had deliberated on the completed blueprint, it would be presented to the Conference of Rulers for its blessings for implementation next year.

"The blueprint is now in the final stage. The preliminary report and suggestions from all quarters have also been taken into consideration to enable it to be implemented to improve the quality of national education.

"We have made many engagements. I think no one was left out.

"A comprehensive blueprint has been prepared. We have also made some improvements to areas deemed weak over the past couple of months," he told a news conference after attending an interactive session with young administrative and diplomatic officers, here.

Last September, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 Preliminary Report which outlines 11 strategic and operational shifts to transform the country's education system.

Among the 11 shifts are to provide equal access to quality education of an international standard, ensure every child is proficient in Bahasa Malaysia and English language, develop values-driven Malaysians and transform teaching into the profession of choice.

Commenting on the protests by certain quarters, Muhyiddin said the ministry could not satisfy everyone.

"We have taken into consideration the opinions of all quarters, including on the status of Chinese schools and aid for national type Chinese and Tamil schools," he said, adding that it was more important to ensure that the blueprint was to the satisfaction of the people.