It is a Human Right to seek Refuge
It is a misguided perception that refuge can only be sought when one is detained under preventive laws. Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim’s earlier statement which criticized the Turkish Embassy and the Ambassador for having allowed Anwar to seek refuge in its premises is devoid of any legal basis. The Foreign Minister commented that Anwar did not qualify for any sort of international or diplomatic protection as he is being sought for criminal investigation. Such an irresponsible statement must not go unchallenged.
Firstly, the fact remains that , Anwar is an innocent man and has not been convicted of any offence. Todate, the allegation remains to be a police report. He has yet to be called for investigation.
Secondly, Anwar has openly informed and had in fact issued a press statement to notify the public of his whereabouts. Certainly, that in no way reflects his intention of running from the law. In fact, Anwar has mentioned that he would immediately leave the Embassy should a complete assurance of his safety be given by the Malaysian government.
Article 1 of the Geneva Convention 1951, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, which has formed part of the corpus of customary international law has defined a refugee as:
“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it..”
Anwar’s call for categorical assurance of his safety is legitimate. Hitherto, he has received several death threats and that clearly ought not to be brushed off lightly. Furthermore, in 1998, Anwar was nearly beaten to death in custody, whilst under detention for trumped-up charges of corruption and sodomy. There is no guarantee that history will not repeat itself, especially considering Anwar’s triumphant return to politics which earned him the wrath and ire of the powers that be and the recent series of events which confirmed past suspicions of a tainted judiciary and a corrupted police force. One must not discount the highly shocking revelations of the Lingam tape, Datuk Ian Chin’s confession and the Altantuya murder case.
Anwar had also emphasized that he has recently acquired new evidence which points to the direct involvement of the present Attorney-General and Inspector General of Police in fabricating evidence during the 1998-1999 Anwar Trials. There remains the obvious great risk of implicating such high-profile individuals, each responsible for the implementation of the law, of which Anwar is subjected to. In having knowledge of the latest evidence in Anwar’s possession, it would not logically be in the best interest of the Attorney-General nor the Inspector-General Police to ensure that Anwar’s trial is fair and free or that his personal safety is guaranteed.
Most importantly, the existence of assassination threats is enough evidence to show that he is hardly neither safe nor secure. Failure by the Prime Minister himself to unequivocally guarantee his safety would only mean that his fears are justified.
Providing refuge is far from “meddling in internal affairs”. It is fulfilling an obligation. International law is replete with evidence that gross violation of human rights, which include being beaten whilst in custody, constitutes torture. In fact, even if assuming he is subsequently charged, he is entitled to remain and not be expelled from Turkish grounds, should the government fail to provide adequate security or assure him of a fair and just trial. The ban on refoulement, which again is customary international law has also been included in Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture 1984 where it is stated that “no State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture”.
It is not without sound reason that the premises of the Turkish embassy remain inviolable under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961. The Malaysian government must respect Turkey’s sovereign right to provide safety and protection to a person seeking refuge in its premises or even to grant political asylum if it so wishes. It would be a clear insult to assume that the embassy did not consider the facts and legal reasons to support its actions under International Law.
Migration or seeking refuge in order to avoid persecution and torture is not an act of “running away” from the law. Rather, it is to run into the arms of law, as one seeks justice and fairness. If we were to look at history, even the prophet Muhammad s.a.w had left Mecca for Medina, with the assistance of the Ansars as political persecution had resulted in gross violation of human rights and widespread torture. Injustice must not be condoned, it must be condemned.
As reiterated by Anwar, the issue of paramount importance is safety, which thus far is of no guarantee. The past speaks volume of what Anwar is expecting, and clearly one cannot blame him if he expects the worst.
Member of Parliament Malaysia
Chairman, Strategy & International Affairs Angkatan Muda KeADILan (AMK)