IS THIS THE PUTRA JAYA’S DARFUR?

Finally, the top UMNO leadership is starting to let slip why it is resisting the July 9 Bersih 2.0 free-fair-elections rally with such extraordinary vehemence.

“From the beginning to the end, it was always about preventing a political tsunami like what happened in Egypt and Tunisia from being repeated amongst the Malay middle ground,” Kuala Krai MP Hatta Ramli toldMalaysia Chronicle.

“They have tried to make the rally a fight between the Najib administration and the urban non-Malays, the Pakatan Rakyat and the NGOs. But actually, what they fear is the sense of reform surging through the Malay electorate.”

Indeed, as another PAS leader Nizar Jamaluddin has pointed out, overall sales of the Bersih2.0 T-shirt has been soaring despite the threats and multiple arrests of those caught promoting the rally, leafleting or even wearing the T-shirt.

“It is RM6mil and climbing, due to illegal ruling of its possession, purchase and wearing by Hisham!,” Nizar said in reference to Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein whose decision to outlaw the yellow, round-necked Bersih tee made the foreign headlines, raising eyebrows far and near.

Extraordinary response from the UMNO elite

Malaysians have been taken aback by the unexpectedly harsh action from Prime Minister Najib Razak, who a day ago warned that the police had been given the power to proclaim Emergency rule if the Bersih rally went through.

Indeed, the UMNO elite have been very concerned since the PAS annual congress earlier this month, when the Islamist party flatly rejected its overtures for a merger.

The election of a new team of ‘centred’ professionals to take over from the previously hardline right-wing Ulamak (or Islamic scholars) faction signalled the end of UMNO’s dominance over the Malay middle ground.

For decades, many of the young and professional Malays chose UMNO over PAS because of its liberal policies as compared with PAS, which began by taking a fundamentalist stance. But as UMNO became corrupted with its huge power over the decades, PAS has slowly but surely drifted leftwards.

“It is this that it is trying very hard to protect,” said Hatta.

“So when PAS said it would 100,000 members, it was worried. When Mat Sabu (the newly appointed deputy president) raised the number to 300,000, the UMNO elite got scared. When PAS president Hadi Awang called on all one-million members to attend, I think Najib fainted. UMNO panicked, they are very scared now. At the end of the day, it is for the Malays themselves to choose. They don’t owe UMNO a living or life-long support.”

Malays don’t owe UMNO life-long support

Bersih is a coalition of the country;s top 62 NGOs. It plans to march to the Palace to deliver a memomrandum containing 8 election reforms to the King, demanding that the BN implements these before the next general election, widely expected to be held soon.

Experts and leaders of other faiths have called on the Najib administration to cede ground, engage with Bersih and agree to at least some of the reforms which are actually very easy to manage, such as the use of indelible ink and a clean-up of the electoral rolls. Najib has refused, sparking claims that he knew BN could not win without cheating.

At the back of the tussle, Pakatan leaders have been warning that what worried the UMNO most was the risk that a wave of social reform consciousness might be sparked off by the rally. Hundreds of thousands have been expected to attend.

It remains to be seen if the police will make the “preventive arrests” that Hisham has promised. But as regional experts and even pro-establishment civil society leaders have pointed out, Najib and BN havce lost.

Many expect the fallout from the rally and the BN’s crude pre-emptive moves to go underground, and spring up in the ballot boxes – triggering the first sort of Arab Spring in Southeast Asia, where most of the nations are controlled by dictatorships or near totalitarian governments.

Special sermon

With just a week to go to the rally, mosques throughout Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya were treated to a special Friday sermon that demonised the Bersih rally and its organisers as “extremists”.

And at an Islamic law convention held later in the afternoon, Najib himself cranked out the rhetoric, urging lawyers not to attend the rally.

“Lawyers who are professional do not need to get involved in street demonstrations because we are a sovereign nation with laws and a constitution,” Najib told the convention, adding in the carrot that a Syariah Bar Council would be formed.

But he attracted ridicule and criticism that he was the “last person” to advise the legal profession, given that his government had arrested some 115 people in Bersih-related activities using questionable ways.

As for the sermon read in 150 mosques, it said the Bersih rally threatened harmony, accusing the organisers of trying to “replicate” the unrest in other countries and overthrow the BN.

“We fear that this movement is being led by extremists who call themselves the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections… in essence this group fights for individuals or specific interests without a care for the sensitivities of the masses or public interest,” the sermon entitled Prserving the blessings of peace read.

“To achieve its goal, these people will engage in street protests, illegal assemblies, they move to gather numbers to create violence, to destroy public property, break the country’s laws and are even willing to hurt the authorities assigned to maintain peace. The actions of these traitors are evil and it is forbidden for Muslims to take part (in the Bersih rally) because this can result in hardship, anxiety and destruction of society.”

But it cut no ground with the Islamist PAS. Other Muslim clerics including the influential Dr Asri Zainul Abidin had praised the motives of Bersih, describing its goals for free and fair elections as “noble”.

“It is a joke the way they make such a big production out of it, but the fact remains – the principles and concepts of Bersih is part of the faith. Ask any Ustaz,” said Hatta.

 

After 10 years of incarceration, and seven years after a jury sentenced him to die, 30-year-old Cory Maye will soon be going home. Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell signed a plea agreement Friday morning in which Maye pled guilty to manslaughter for the 2001 death of Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones, Jr.

Per the agreement, Harrell then sentenced Maye to 10 years in prison, time he has now already served. Maye will be taken to Rankin County, Mississippi, for processing and some procedural work. He is expected to be released within days.

Maye’s story, a haunting tale about race, the rural south, the excesses of the drug war, the inequities of the criminal justice system and a father’s instincts to protect his daughter, caught fire across the Internet and the then-emerging blogging world when I first posted the details on my own blog in late 2006.

Shortly after midnight on December 26, 2001, Maye, then 21, was drifting off to sleep in his Prentiss duplex as the television blared in the background. Hours earlier, he had put his 18-month-old-daughter to sleep. He was soon awoken by the sounds of armed men attempting to break into his home. In the confusion, he fired three bullets from the handgun he kept in his nightstand.

As he’d later testify in court, Maye realized within seconds that he’d just shot a cop. A team of police officers from the area had received a tip from an informant — later revealed to be a racist drug addict — that there was a drug dealer living in the small yellow duplex on Mary Street. It now seems clear that the police were after Jamie Smith, who lived on the other side of the duplex, not Maye or his live-in girlfriend Chenteal Longino. Neither Maye nor Longino had a criminal record. Their names weren’t on the search warrants.

Maye would later testify that as soon as he realized the armed men in his home were police, he surrendered and put up his hands. There were three bullets still left in his gun. But Maye had just shot a cop. And not just any cop. He shot Officer Ron Jones, Jr., the son of Prentiss Police Chief Ron Jones, Sr. Maye is black; Jones was white. And this was Jefferson Davis County, a part of Mississippi still divided by tense relations between races. Maye was arrested and charged with capital murder, the intentional killing of a police officer.

After a long series of delays, Maye was finally tried in 2004 in Marion County, Mississippi. Maye’s family shied away from retaining Bob Evans, the Prentiss public defender, a decision they’d later come to regret. Instead, they pooled their money and hired Ronda Cooper, an attorney in Jackson who made a number of critical mistakes during Maye’s trial. There were other problems with Maye’s trial as well, including testimony from Mississippi medical examiner Steven Hayne, who performed the autopsy on Jones. I’d later report on a number of questions about Hayne’s workload and credibility as an expert witness. He eventually resigned from the National Association of Medical Examiners and was barred from doing any more autopsies for Mississippi prosecutors.

In early 2007, after reading about Hayne’s case on a number of blogs, attorneys from the D.C. law firm Covington & Burling agreed to represent Maye pro bono. Maye’s family also went back to public defender and defense attorney Bob Evans. (Evans would later be fired as Prentiss public defender for his decision to represent Maye.) In the fall of 2007, at a hearing in Poplarville, Mississippi, Judge Michael Eubanks threw out Maye’s death sentence, finding that he had received inadequate defense counsel during the sentencing portion of his trial. Maye was to be taken off Parchman Penitentiary’s Death Row. Eubanks resentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In November 2009, the Mississippi State Court of Appeals granted Maye a new trial, finding that he should have been permitted to move his trial back to Jefferson Davis County after his attorney mistakenly asked for a change of venue. In 2010, the Mississippi State Supreme Court upheld the order for the new trial, but on the grounds that Maye should have been permitted to offer the defense that he was defending his daughter on the night of the raid.

News is breaking that the prosecutor’s case in the rape allegations against former IMF Director and French political kingpin Dominique Strauss-Kahn is collapsing.

According to reports, the accuser who worked at New York’s Hotel Sofitel has allegedly been engaged in money laundering activities and has had substantial contact with an incarcerated drug dealer.  Strauss-Kahn’s bails and terms of detention are reportedly going to be lightened today — and others are suggesting that felony charges may be dropped against him.

Maybe he did harass this woman — but it is also possible that he did not.  That’s what the system of justice is for — to presume innocence until guilt is determined.  That no longer sounds likely in this case.

But this week, former French Finance Minister Christine Legarde was named Strauss-Kahn’s successor at the International Monetary Fund, and back at home, French Socialist Party Leader Martine Aubry declared her candidacy for President.

Strauss-Kahn, who may be innocent, who even Sarkozy said should be presumed innocent unless evidence led to a different conclusion, now cannot return either to the IMF or to his position as the next likely President of France.

One of the fears that I often hear from people when talking about the growing power of social network sites, blogs, as well as micro-journalism and micro-comment platforms is the one of scandalmongering, or a tsunami of mistruths and reputational attacks that take down some high profile person.

A good read on this sort of thing is the late William Safire‘s historical novel,Scandalmonger, which shares what slander blogging might have been like in late 18th century America in the person of James Callender who doggedly pursued, occasionally inventing, sleazy stories about both Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.

I have generally argued, and may be wrong, that the internet is a much more honest and disciplining arena than print, that errors, mistakes, or misreporting would be instantaneously sniffed out and corrected by a global audience.  I know I have gotten things wrong before and had emails or posted comments that helped me put my information on a better, more accurate track.  But that isn’t always the case, particularly in growing clusters of same-thinking people who care less about sorting out the facts than they do about the frame (or bias) they bring to some respective issue.

But in today’s fast-paced world, a reputation can be destroyed rapidly — and if, as in the case of Strauss-Kahn it seems, the consequences of charges made actually precede the processing of those charges, then we as a society are no longer extending the benefits of presumed innocence that are core to our form of democracy and our legal system.

I realize given the proliferation of commentary about Strauss-Kahn’s alleged womanizing and the bandwaggoning criticism of him that built after his arrest that he is perhaps a flawed and tragic figure.

But the problem of reputation wrecked still stands whether the target is warm and likeable or a brilliant storm, as I see Strauss-Kahn, and that lesson is a bad one for people on the internet, who are becoming commentators and writers, to learn.  They see the successful effects of attack, whether based in truth and credibility or not, and sense that the downsides of backlash and consequence to an accuser’s or scandalmongerer’s credibility are not serious.

When Georgia State USDA rural development director Shirley Sherrod was fired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for making ‘alleged’ racially-tinged remarks, we also saw consequences meted out before the entire story of that video, brought to light by Andrew Breitbart, was properly considered.

There is no clear fix to these problems.  We don’t have a system that would let Strauss-Kahn have his job back, and Aubry is not likely to step aside in her presidential quest and let DSK go back and take the top spot challenging Sarkozy.

Again, I am not saying that I know if he did or didn’t engage in lewd conduct against a hotel chambermaid — but his legally-based presumed innocence has been inconsequential to the penalties that he’s already received, and that’s something that should worry us.

 

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim warned the nation to brace for pre-emptive arrests ahead of the July 9 Bersih rally, saying that the BN federal government would resort to all ways and means to cling to power.

“Corrupt and wicked leaders will use whatever excuse to maintain their grip on power,” Anwar, who is also the PKR de-facto head, told reporters after lodging his statement at the Dangi Wangi police station this afternoon.

Indeed, this has been the concern rising amongst the country’s civil society leaders who fear Prime Minister Najib Razak might take a wrong step and plunge the country into a new economic crisis by reverting to hardline and emergency rule.

Pundits also point out that if it was not the Bersih rally, Najib would still make his move at another event of his own orchestration. The crux of the matter, they said, was that Najib wanted to stay in power whatever the ways and means.

So if not Bersih, it will be something else, they added. They also expect the PM to effect his move once he gets wind that the sentiment is no longer with BN, so to cancel Bersih was actually pointless. It is much better for it to go on and it is actually the job of the police to make sure that it is orderly, they added.

Meanwhile, Anwar said the police should not be blamed for following the orders of the ruling elite in UMNO. He slammed the UMNO bigwigs for pressing down on the police force.

“If the police are allowed to act professionally, no problem will arise. The problem comes when the police receive political orders,” Anwar said.

Manage the situation, not just crack down

Like many other PKR leaders, Anwar has been hauled for questioning over the Bersih rally. Last night, about 600 motor-bikers from UMNO Youth circled the PKR headquarters in Tropicana, threatening torch the office, harm Anwar and Bersih chairman Ambiga if they did not stop Bersih.

However, Anwar said Bersih should proceed and it was better if the police and the Bersih organizers sat together to discuss safety procedures and measures.

“There are those who oppose, and those who don’t. There are also those who oppose Umno, so do you want to make Umno illegal? We follow the process, and the way is to manage the situation, so that the roads are under control and that protesters use the approved streams, as done by many countries,” Anwar said.

He was questioned for nearly an hour by the cops over a ceramah or political lecture he gave in Brickfields on June 12. Even though it was not a Bersih event, Anwar had urged the people to attend the rally and stand up for their voting rights.

Soon after the Nuba Mountains region of central Sudan exploded in war two weeks ago, a patrol from the United Nations peacekeeping force was detained by Sudanese government soldiers and subjected to a mock firing squad in the soldiers’ divisional headquarters.

First the peacekeepers were lined up. Then an officer cocked his AK-47 and pointed it at them. He demanded that they leave South Kordofan state, the ancestral home of the Nuba people, and warned: “We will kill you if you come back here.”

The U.N. mission in South Kordofan is the only international protection for the Nuba people, the forgotten victims of Sudan’s 22-year civil war. South Sudan will finally earn freedom from the Khartoum regime when the South becomes independent on July 9. But the Nuba, trapped along the North-South border, will remain within Khartoum’s reach.

The peacekeepers meant to protect the Nuba cannot even protect themselves. They are out-gunned and out-numbered by Sudanese government forces who have dropped 500-pound bombs less than 2,500 feet from U.N. mission headquarters in the state capital, Kadugli. On Monday, Sudanese forces threatened to shoot down any U.N. flights over South Kordofan.

Now, the peacekeeping force is under orders from Khartoum to leave South Kordofan by July 9, the day South Sudan becomes independent. If it is pushed out, who will remain in South Kordofan to bear witness to the atrocities that are already unfolding? International staff working for non-U.N. agencies have already left Kadugli — every last one of them.

The U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, has said there is not yet evidence that the new Nuba war amounts to “ethnic cleansing.” But confidential U.N. reports that we’ve seen speak of “wide-scale exactions against unarmed civilians with specific targeting of African tribes,” and of people targeted “along racial/ethnic lines.”

The Nuba live on the southern edge of Sudan’s Arabized north. As black Africans, they have always been regarded as second-class citizens by Sudan’s northern elites. Many fought alongside the southern rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the civil war from 1985 until a ceasefire in the Nuba Mountains in 2002, hoping to end their marginalization and preserve their unique culture.

Long before the Khartoum regime launched its war on Darfur, it attempted to destroy life in the rural Nuba Mountains and resettle the entire population of insurgent areas in camps where Nuba identity would be eradicated. Community leaders and intellectuals were killed; villages were burned to the ground.

Despite the Nuba people’s immense suffering, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 did not satisfy their aspirations — including their demand for self-determination. What little the peace agreement did offer was neglected as Darfur monopolized international attention.

Today the international community is making another mistake. It is failing to understand that this is not a conflict that can be resolved by North-South negotiations. This is a North-North conflict. The so-called Three Areas along the North-South divide — Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile — are regions with particular histories and problems that remain largely unaddressed. Without urgent attention to South Kordofan, next month’s partition may well ignite a new civil war.

Hundreds of thousands of Nuba are already on the move, fleeing from tanks, artillery and aerial bombardment. Humanitarian access has been shut down. A week ago, U.N. peacekeepers warned of a humanitarian crisis that they are “not sufficiently prepared to counter.”

Apart from a couple of statements in the U.N. Security Council, the international community has failed to put the plight of the Nuba people on its agenda. President Obama must understand that the conflagration in South Kordofan has the potential to bring down the whole edifice built by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The Nuba Mountains require an immediate ceasefire with unconditional humanitarian access, followed by a robust monitoring mission on the ground and resolution of the grievances that caused conflict in the first place.

The Nuba Mountains were killing fields a decade before Darfur. Are they doomed to be again?

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