Cabinet on Wednesday should discuss Rafidah Aziz’s allegation that she was treated like a terrorist when attending the WTO Conference in Sydney and declare its official stand

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Sunday):  The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad yesterday blamed negative travel advisories issued by certain countries for the alarming drop of tourist arrivals in Malaysia.

He said he was disappointed with the entire affair concerning travel advisories and it has occurred despite the country having registered a protest with countries responsible for such advisories.

However, Mahathir has so far failed to address the crux of the problem, that in recent weeks, Malaysia has catapulted to the top rank  on the international radar of terrorism with the country hogging CNN, BBC, VOA and the international media on the daily updates on news about terrorism, compounded by  the shock  announcement by the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Norian Mai, last Tuesday  about Malaysia’s first “suicide bomber” squad which had the net effect of confirming  the worst “Terrorist Alert” travel advisories of United States, Australia and other Western governments about Malaysia being a country with high-risk terrorism  completely negativing  the government’s protests.

The public outburst by the International Trade and Industry Minister, Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz on Friday that she was “treated like a terrorist” by the Australian officials when attending the World Trade Organisation meeting in Sydney a fortnight ago has intensified concerns, both national and international, as to whether the Malaysian government is serious about  security concerns stemming from the threat of internationally-coordinated terrorism.

Malaysians generally  feel that there is something seriously amiss about  Rafidah’s  public outburst. Rafidah said Australian officials had given her a hard time, demanding that her hand-luggage be checked by police sniffer dogs three times at different locations. The reasons  she had given for objecting to security check by sniffer dogs were:

  • "I told them that I would not allow that as I am Muslim.  How could they do such a thing, particularly during the fasting month and when the animal is haram to Muslims?  They were so insensitive.”
  • She was a VIP and guest of the Australian Government.
  • Discrimination as out of the 27 Trade Ministers who attended the WTO Conference,  only she and two other Ministers from Mexico and Lesotho were required to submit their luggage to sniffer-dog checks.

The Cabinet on Wednesday should discuss Rafidah Aziz’s allegation that she was treated like a terrorist when attending the WTO Conference in Sydney, examine the reasons she had given  and declare its official stand.

It will be most unfortunate, totally unnecessary and downright  deplorable if Rafidah’s episode should be the cause for the latest  public spat between Mahathir and the Australian authorities, with the Malaysian Prime Minister publicly attacking Australia as an “outsider” in the region and  prompting one Australian politician telling Mahathir to take “a running jump” – if no national dignity but only personal pique was involved.

Out of the  three reasons given by Rafidah, only the third one deserves support and if it is true that she had been discriminated against  to be subject to luggage-check by sniffer dogs when 24 out of the 27 Trade Ministers who attended the WTO meeting were spared such treatment, then the Cabinet should lodge an official protest and demand a full  apology  from the Australian Government unless there was  a proper and satisfactory explanation.  DAP will lend full support to such  Cabinet action.

The second reason of her being a VIP and a guest of the Australian Government is more dubious and quite debatable in the post-911 and post-Bali world with heightened and even obsessive concerns of ensuring security against terrorism, particularly when bearing in mind that the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had to take off his shoes and belt when flying  to New York to address  the United Nations General Assembly.

But the most perplexing is the first reason given by Rafidah claiming  religious objections, for if she is consistent, she should not just be protesting for herself but for all Malaysian  Muslims, whether men or women, for  being subjected to any luggage-check by sniffer-dogs.  Or is she suggesting that she only objects to  being subjected to luggage-check by sniffer-dogs on religious grounds but not when this search is applied to other Muslims, men or women, and  whether from Malaysia or elsewhere?

Furthermore, if Rafidah is consistent, had she ever objected in her over two decades as Cabinet Minister  to the existence of the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP)  Dog Unit, and their use against Malaysians, both Muslims and non-Muslims?  The RMP Dog Unit  was first established in 1968 with only six dogs and now  expanding to over 100 dogs deployed in all the states. The RMP Dog Unit  introduced drug-detecting dogs in 1979 followed by explosives-detecting dogs in 1990. 

There had been no record of any protest or objection  by Rafidah in her entire public life  about  the deplorable use of police dogs against Malaysians peacefully assembled to assert their constitutional rights and  fundamental liberties. For the information of Rafidah, dog units are widely used by police forces throughout the world, including other Muslim nations like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Will Rafidah now propose the disbandment of the RMP Dog Unit?

The Cabinet should decide whether this is an acceptable reason for Rafidah’s conduct at the WTO Sydney Conference and her public outburst, and if not, it should clearly dissociate itself in a Cabinet statement.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman