The Sydney Morning Herald

August 5 2002

Don't be browbeaten on liberty, Wan Azizah tells silent Downer

By Craig Skehan, Herald Correspondent in Kuala Lumpur

The wife of the jailed former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim yesterday criticised the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, for no longer speaking out against human rights abuses in the country.
"Australia should not be browbeaten by the Malaysian Government," Dr Wan Azizah Ismail said. "You can be polite and still make a stand on democratic freedoms."
Dr Wan Azizah said she was disappointed that Mr Downer left Malaysia on Saturday night without meeting her or at least sending a member of his delegation to see her.
Mr Downer made it clear, when questioned by Australian journalists, that he did not want to make "controversial statements" relating to Malaysia that could threaten collaboration against terrorism.
On Friday, Mr Downer signed a memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism measures, including intelligence sharing, with the Malaysian Government.
Supporters of the opposition Reformasi movement, started by Anwar before he was jailed in 1998, expressed concern that Australia had become increasingly reluctant to raise publicly human rights abuses in Malaysia.
Mr Downer's stance contrasts with the visit to Malaysia last week of the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
His deputy, James Kelly, met Dr Wan Azizah, and Mr Powell described as "flawed" the recent rejection of a legal appeal by Anwar against his conviction on what critics say were trumped-up corruption and sodomy charges.
Mr Powell also expressed concern over misuse of Malaysia's Internal Security Act to jail peaceful dissidents without trial.
Australian officials claim that during his visit to Malaysia Mr Downer did raise related issues privately with government representatives, but they declined to give examples or details.
Dr Wan Azizah said she was surprised that Mr Downer had become "tight-lipped" over the use of detention to stifle free speech in Malaysia. "Previously, Mr Downer did come and see me, but not this time."