Nurul Izzah (Photo: KBR)

Nurul Izzah (Photo: KBR)

In Malaysia more than 150 activists, opposition politicians and lawyers have been arrested this year either under the Sedition or the Peaceful Assembly Act, which imposes strict regulations on public protesting.

Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah, the daughter of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, was among those arrested and held overnight.  

She was detained for Sedition over a speech that criticized her father’s imprisonment. She said that the judges had sold their soul to the devil. Her father started serving a five year jail term in February for sodomy charges. His conviction has been largely seen as politically motivated.

Nurul Izzah came into the KBR studios this week and Rebecca Henschke asked her if her arrest surprised her.

“Never before in Malaysian history has a member of parliament being arrested for making a speech in parliament and I think this goes against not just the basic issue of freedom of expression but parliamentarian immunity granted to every MP. Unfortunately for almost all the members of parliament that were detained from the opposition coalition we were not questioned for the duration of our incarnation. What does this mean? This means they wanted to punish us. They wanted to silence us, to create a culture of fear.”

Did it have that effect? Did it frightening you?

“Maybe this was God’s plan to ensure that I tasted just a little bit of what my father and many others have had to go through.”

How is your father doing?

“We were told at the very last minute that today was to be our family visit but my sister and I are a bit sad that we are here in Indonesia. We miss our father. We are only given access once a month to visit, a no contact visit for 45 minutes. But of course we do see him in court from time to time as he has been slapped with so many charges. He has lost weight, quite visibly so. But his spirit is still very high. And at the age of 68 he is seen as a beacon for reform and the fact that he has sacrificed and returned to Malaysia to continue the struggle has given much strength to many of us back home.”

The prosecutor in your father’s sodomy case, Shafee Abdullah has been appointed the head of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) --- the government says he has vast experience in legal and human rights matters and is the right man for the job. How do you view his appointment Nurul?

“He has done the most unethical thing which is to devolve information in public which is not pass and parcel of court proceedings.  So the government has a lot to answer for because Malaysia’s credibility as the chair of ASEAN is at stake and I don’t want, certainly as a Malaysian, to see any unbecoming conduct being celebrated in anyway.”

How does your positions as women affect your campaign – in a both positive and negative way?

“Well I think the political landscape is very much shaped to fit a man. That’s why we need more women to come into the profession to explain to them that ‘hey you have to make sure that we are celebrated and encouraged to participate’. Having said that I don’t think about it consciously because we are talking about a movement that involves many people, women and men, and the party has been lead by a female president for many many years. My hope is to inspire and to encourage many other women.

It has been difficult. I have two small children. I am wearing the bracelet that my daughter made me wear. And she did ask me ‘Mum I see other mothers spending their time taking care of their children.  And I said that ‘well I am taking care of your future so that we can be secure in a Malaysia that is democratic and safe’.”

And how did she respond to that?

“She said ‘OK she will think about it. Give me some time to accept this’. But I can’t be prouder.  It was certainly difficult when I was in prison even though just one night. But I want them to understand and feel that this struggle is not just for their grandfather it’s for all Malaysians and for all the people like Cartoonist Zunar who has just been re-arrested. If we don’t fight back we will have nothing left to defend.”

Do you feel comfortable being in a coalition with an Islamist Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party that wants to want to implement Islamic criminal code?

“Malaysia is very diverse. Of course we have different points of views with regards to an Islamic criminal code. But I think it’s important to celebrate differences of opinions and it’s not easy…”

I guess there is respecting diversity but then there is also a certain level of human rights and international standards of human rights. This Islamic party PAN is talking about stoning people to death for adultery. Is that something you’re comfortable?

“We have decided that we can’t vote in favor of the enactment of the amendment proposed by the Islamic party.”

Does that make the coalition tense?

“Yes I think tense is an understatement. But we should celebrate the fact that all members of parliament from each party have been arrested. (Laughs).”

But is this the only thing that unites you though? This will to overthrow the Barisan national government.

“If you look closely even inside the Islamic party there are diverse views. I think it’s important to take a more nuance look and understand that these are the voices that should be celebrated. The voices that want Malaysia to change for the better.”

You can hear the full interview 30 minute interview here . 

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