Anwar honoured at world music festival


CHIANG MAI - Anwar Ibrahim, the jailed former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, was honoured yesterday at the World Festival of Sacred Music as part of activities to mark World Human Rights Day, Constitution Day and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thai democracy advocate Pridi Banomyong.

In accepting the award for her husband, Azizah Ismail said she was "deeply honoured."

"Anwar has requested me to express his profound gratitude to the World Festival of Sacred Music for conferring upon him an award dedicated to one of humankind's noblest in the quest for peace," she said, referring to Pridi.

"Anwar accepts the award with great humility. He sees it as recognition of the sacrifice and suffering of thousands of fellow Malaysians in the reformasi [reform] movement - the main mover for peaceful change in our country - who have committed themselves to the democratic struggle for a just Malaysia," she added.

Having already served two years of a six-year prison sentence for corruption, Anwar was sentenced in August to an additional nine years on charges of sodomy. He has denied any wrongdoing and has claimed the charges are part of a political vendetta against him.

In presenting the award, Sulak Sivalaksa, one of organisers of the festival, said: "Anwar has become a symbol of the injustice perpetrated by the ruling regime in Kuala Lumpur.

"He dedicated his energy in government to formulate policies that succeeded in a massive reduction of poverty, improvement in the quality of life and stunning economic performance... He successfully fought for greater government tolerance towards dissent, cultivation of openness, civil society and democracy," he said.

Azizah, who appeared in traditional dress, said the thousands of sacred musicians and monks as well as the diverse audience of people from different traditions, race and religions who attended the three-day festival were playing an important part in the push to make the world a better place.

"Anwar would have loved to be here in Chiang Mai," Azizah told the crowd. "He has always believed that music, art and culture are vital ingredients in self fulfilment and in creating a more humane and compassionate world. Sacred music in particular, helps sensitise the human spirit to both the virtue of character and the anguish of pain."

Azizah said her husband is suffering great pain, and doctors have told her he requires surgery. She said Anwar received a serious spinal cord injury from a jail beating by the police inspector general in 1998.

Anwar was taken from prison on November 25 to Kuala Lumpur Central Hospital. Surgery on the slipped disk is risky and could leave Anwar permanently paralysed, Azizah said. Medical treatment is being sought for him, but "the government did not allow him to go to another, better hospital," she told The Nation.

Azizah said she could visit Anwar more often now that he is in the hospital, but the process is time consuming.

"Every time I visit him, I have to apply to the lawyer. When the lawyer will approve or not , we do not know," she said.

"We still keep fighting for his freedom," she concluded, adding that though his body was imprisoned his spirit is free and with steadfast faith and unyielding courage, that vision of a beautiful tomorrow for all our children will be realised."

The awards ceremony came on the closing day of the festival. Organisers of the event included Tibet House, His Holiness the Dali Lama's Foundation for Universal Responsibilities, Sathirakosses Nagapradipa Foundation, Chiang Mai University Centre for Promotion of Arts and Culture and 10 other local and international organisations.


The Nation

LAST MODIFIED: Sunday, 10-Dec-00 12:19:32 EST