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Wan Azizah urges rights


      Wan Azizah urges rights 

      KUALA LUMPUR -- Asean should review
      its non-interference policy and take a more
      active and collective role in advocating
      universal values such as human rights and
      justice, the wife of ousted Malaysian deputy
      prime minister Anwar Ibrahim says. 

      Those universal values are ''borderless''
      and their absence could affect regional
      prosperity, stability, peace and harmony,
      said Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who has
      taken an active political role following the
      sudden sacking of her husband in early
      September and his subsequent arrest on
      charges of corruption and sexual

      Her message on Wednesday, in an
      interview with The Nation, was directed
      towards leaders of the nine Asean
      countries who were split in their collective
      and individual response to the on-going
      Malaysian political tension. Although
      Filipino President Joseph Estrada and
      Indonesian President Bacharuddin Jusuf
      Habibie strongly criticised the Malaysian
      government for the arrest of their friend
      Anwar, other Asean countries avoided any
      comment, citing the Asean non-interference

      The ophthalmologist, who abandoned her
      professional career after Anwar assumed
      the deputy premiership, suggested a
      distinction between interference in personal
      affairs and interference in universal values,
      saying that she wanted to see ''a more
      vocal [Asean] engagement'' in Anwar's
      plight. She strongly believed in her
      husband's innocence, saying that his
      political downfall was the result of his
      attempts to protect public funds from

      ''You speak about justice, universal values
      and human rights -- that's not interference to
      me. Because those values are borderless,''
      she said. 

      ''We live in a global society, especially
      Asean, we are neighbours. So whatever
      affects the region should be collectively
      seen. That's how I would like to see Asean
      move as we talk about regional prosperity,
      regional stability and regional peace and

      Wan Azizah said she believes ''Asean
      could do a little bit more'' when asked if she
      was happy with the grouping's position on
      Anwar's plight. 

      Wan Azizah was not afraid to speak out in
      favour of her husband's call for political
      reforms despite a police restriction order.
      She could be arrested if she actively
      participated in any anti-government
      demonstration. Despite, the official threat,
      she was seen at key demonstrations last
      month where she greeted the crowd from a

      She said the official threats of arrest have
      not impeded her activities and she has not
      violated any laws in her public appearances
      and activities, including meetings with
      people and journalists, in order to get her
      message across. 

      ''Well, I have been talking to you so that I
      can get my message across. I have not
      been stopped,'' she said. ''I'm not worried
      that I will be arrested because I haven't
      broken any law.'' 

      She said she believes in her husband's
      innocence and is preparing for the worst
      but hoping for the best. ''He has not been
      found guilty so why should I think about it
      [future role],'' she said. 

      When asked if she will be ready to carry on
      in politics, Wan Azizah responded: ''From
      the looks of it, I'm doing it now.'' 

      The mother of six said that her family was
      carrying on as usual with their everyday
      lives and activities although the children
      miss their father very much. Wan Azizah
      said that Anwar has lost 18 pounds since
      his arrest but he is in good health and in
      good spirit. 

      She revealed she had been contacted by
      officials from several countries, whose
      leaders will arrive in Kuala Lumpur next
      week for the Asia-Pacific Economic
      Cooperation summit, for a possible
      meeting with her. She refused to disclose
      the names or countries but said she will be
      meeting Habibie's wife and that she
      believes Estrada has expressed his
      intention to meet Anwar. 

      Wan Azizah said she feels honoured to be
      compared with ''very strong'' Asian woman
      leaders such as former Filipino president
      Corazon Aquino, Indonesia's Megawati
      Sukarnoputri and Burma's Aung San Suu
      Kyi. She said Aquino had called her and
      that she would like to tap into her views and

      STEVE GAN 

      The Nation