There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.
During my internship in Malaysia in 2014, I got to know a young man who shares Nelson Mandela’s vision on the quest for freedom. His name is Adam Adli Abd Halim.
Adam Adli is a former student activist currently engaged in human rights and politics in Malaysia.
Adam gave a speech in public in 2013 – after the General Election – because of which he was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for six days.
Currently he is facing a jail term of two years for organizing a demonstration (named KitaLawan) after the detention of the former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in the beginning of 2015. I had the pleasure to interview Adam in 2014 and we are still in touch, so that the interview has been updated constantly.
Why did you decide to become politically active?
When I was a student, I got involved in a number of student movements. These movements are quite small, but sufficient for us to do something with impact, especially to expose the injustice which is caused by the government and also to raise awareness among the Malaysians. I finally decided to get involved in politics when I realized that I had to do something, so that Malaysia becomes a better place for everyone in the future. And I was guided by the following thoughts: if I am unable to start now when am I going to start? So I took the chance, seized the moment and got engaged.
In which ways would you like to change Malaysia?
Malaysia is a developing country and we tend to develop this country by building more modern buildings. What I am looking at for a better Malaysia is that we stop this kind of development and rethink our visions. We should think about the direction our nation’s economic policies are taking.
We are doing it wrong. We do not actually know how to become a developed country. We might think that a developed country needs to have the highest buildings, biggest shopping malls, modern facilities or the longest roads in the world. No, that shouldn’t be the case. What I am looking at is how we are going to redevelop, how we are going to use education as part of our plan, how we are going to bring about a mental shift in our people to change Malaysia. What we need is not only development, but also new ideas; we need to review our problems. We are looking at racial problems, intolerance between religions in this country. Our society is actually quite backward compared to our neighbors such as Singapore, Indonesia or even Thailand. We should start by solving our problems before we can say that we are actually working towards a truly developed country, not by simply assuming that we can always make a duplicate of Tokyo or New York.
We need to find our own identity, address our real problems and solve them.
What do you think about the Malaysian government and its reign?
Malaysia has been ruled by the same party for the past 59 years. We hold the record for having the oldest government in the world, meaning that we have been ruled by the same party since 1957. We have had a monarchy for centuries, but when the British came we assumed that we could have the same system as in the UK. Great Britain has their monarchy, Prime Minister, and parliament to rule the people but it is totally different here. In the UK they ensure that these institutions function as they should. They know the separation of power, they know the separate roles but here in Malaysia we are quite confused because it has only been 59 years since we have got a democracy or a Prime Minister in this country. We call it a parliamentary monarchy with a separation of sovereign power, but this is not the same monarchy nor the same system before the British came. We have not identified their roles in this country. Hence if they really want to adopt the western system like in the UK, then it should be applied to the people and the kings and queens. If we are adopting the system, we have to implement it on both sides, not only on one side.
Why is it important for you to change the political conditions in Malaysia?
Everything is determined by political conditions. If you have a good government and a good life, you have a better country. The problem is that we have a system, but we cannot really implement it because we have a corrupt government. We have corrupt politicians as our leaders. We have policies that affect the lives of the people here. Some people try very hard to change society from the bottom up, but it will not work, because it remains the same at the state level. The problem are the leaders. If we have better leaders in this country, we shall also have a better society and a better country. It is important to have a non-discriminatory government in the future.
Could you describe the election in 2013? What happened?
During the 2013 election, there was proof of massive misconduct. We called for a protest and we asked for a re-election, because we could not accept the outcome of the election, especially when the opposition obtained 52% of the popular votes, while the government only managed 47%.
But the ruling parties are still in government, because the electoral system was designed to keep them in power. It has never given an opportunity to the people to make a choice, instead it is a rubberstamp election and the government will always call for elections whenever they feel that they are ready. It is just to validate the mandate of the current government every five years, so they call for an election when it is due, because the law says so. They are not afraid of it, because – no matter how small the popular vote is – they will remain in government. During the last election we called for a massive protest in the entire country. I was arrested for being a part of the campaign and for giving a speech, which allegedly indicated hatred and allegedly initiated chaos, causing disharmony among the people. Authorities think that it will create a riot, that it will create unrest among the people, but this is not the case. The last time I checked I was not offending the people but the government, so arrest is a political tool to punish those who voice criticism against the government. That is the episode of the last general election. That is how I got involved in the political games in Malaysia. That is how I was arrested, brought to the court and charged under the Sedition Act.
You were arrested and detained in isolation confinement for one week. What were your feelings about it?
I felt that it was necessary. Malaysian society is quiet. We need to be loud enough to make them hear us. By being loud you also put the reset at a very high level. I have been quite motivated and inspired by many other freedom fighters. Of course it was inconvenient for me to be arrested: I could not speak to my friends, I could not enjoy my everyday life, but it is necessary to show the people what we mean when we say that the government has to go.
This government is the one who is taking away your freedom; it has been fooling around with you; it has been a bad government. This is how a bad government works: they will arrest and jail everyone whom they regard as a gangster – sometimes without any reason. They are politicians who are too afraid of their own enemy. They might think that they do not have the ability to confront the people who criticize them, so they use all the power they have to stop them. I knew that there were risks when I decided to enter this game, to be part of this world of politics and activism. The government, the authority, the oppressor will do everything to oppress you and you need to be ready for it. You need to understand that this is a necessary sacrifice which you have to make.
Describe the period from arrest to release.
When I was in jail, they gave me orange overalls. Orange means that you are a serious criminal. Normally it is given to rapists and murderers because they want to make sure that you are visible all the time. The other people in custody were jailed with other detainees but I was kept on my own, and I was not allowed to speak to the other detainees and they were not allowed to talk to me, because my ‘crime’ was sedition. Throughout the six days of detention I was interrogated every day from 8 am to 6 or 7 pm. This were nearly 10 hours in which they asked the same questions. It happened every day but towards the end they realized that I will not open my mouth because I exercised my right to remain silent. There were windows in the building but you could not look out. You could not see anything except the windows. I did not know what was going on outside but when I was in the interrogation room it indicated to me that it was morning and when they sent me to my cell I knew that it was already late. They kept the lights on all of the time. Some of the police officers were annoyed at me for sleeping all the time. I told them that there was nothing that I could do in jail. I kept rubberbands from my food packets and tied them into a small ball, so that I can play with it, but they took that away. I had nothing else to do but sleep. They tried to intimidate me. Some of the police officers wanted to harm me but the threats were psychological rather than physical. They did not dare touch me, but they started asking questions which were not asked during the interrogation. It happened when I was in the cell. They asked weird questions like “Do you regret what has happened to you?” and “Do you know where your parents are?” They said stuff to break me but I was certain that it was not true.
How did you influence others?
I showed that there is nothing to be afraid of. I mean a person like me – very small, very fragile – just a normal student going around talking about corruption and about new ideas, talking about change in Malaysia. So if a small person like me can endure this, why cannot all of you guys do this? People start to understand that it is all about politics and that you have to be part of it. This is not the responsibility of only certain people. This is everyone’s responsibility. It is a responsibility that comes with very high risks. It is the price of the struggle, because in the end change will never be made by one person but by everyone. This is about whether you are willing or not. There are so many things which you can do. When you want to become a great member of society, you also have a very great responsibility towards society.
The Malaysian authorities, the government, can do everything to make you believe that they can cause you harm. They can expel you from university, because they have the power. They can harass you, because they have the power. But one thing they do not have is the guts to address real problems. All they are doing is to cover up their own mess. We are here to fix things and to bring change for a better nation in the future.
Thank you for the interview.
The next election will take place in 2017 and Malaysians are demanding clean and fair elections as well as the resignation of the current Prime Minister Najib Razak. Amnesty International is therefore organizing an event at the campus, which will take place coming Monday (21/11/2016, 11.30-13.30). We would like to take some pictures of interested students to show solidarity with Malaysia. Furthermore, we will collect signatures to drop the charges which were made against several human rights activists, such as Adam.
Nama saya Charlotte und ich studiere „Development Studies“ an der Universität Passau. Da ich mich stets für andere Kulturen und Religionen interessiert habe, habe ich in Marburg „Vergleichende Kultur- und Religionswissenschaft“ und „Friedens- und Konfliktforschung“ studiert und nach dem Erlangen meines Abiturs einen Freiwilligendienst in Malaysia absolviert. In dieser Zeit habe ich das Land intensivst kennengelernt und reise seitdem jährlich nach Malaysia. Trotz seiner unendlichen Schönheit, wird das Land durch diverse Menschenrechtsverletzungen überschattet. 2014 beschloss ich daher ein Praktikum bei einer malaysischen Menschenrechtsorganisation zu absolvieren. Seitdem engagiere ich mich in verschiedenen malaysischen NGOs und führe einen Blog über die politischen Bedingungen in Malaysia.