Malaysians must wonder why Aishah is considered safe but Chin Peng’s ashes are deemed a national threat
Two people with a shared ideology – communism. Both Malaysians, both radicals. Both have spent the past 30 years living outside Malaysia. Both were educated locally, one at the Methodist run Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) in Perak, the other at the Tengku Khursiah College in Negri Sembilan.
One became a leader albeit of a banned organisation and disappeared into the Malayan jungle, whilst the other disappeared into the back-streets of London into oblivion.
The two people are a Chinese man, 88-year-old Chin Peng who died in Bangkok last September and a Malay woman 69-year-old Siti Aishah Abdul Wahab who with her two comrades staged a daring escape from her alleged captors on Oct 25.
Aishah and the other women had been kept as “slaves” in a collective by a couple – an Indian and a Tanzanian for the past 30 years.
Chin Peng rose up the ranks to become the leader of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) when he was only 23-years-old. Aishah was a very promising, intelligent woman who secured a Commonwealth scholarship to study at the London School of Economics (LSE) when she was 24-years-old.
Two days ago the IGP Khalid Abu Bakar confirmed the identity of the woman who was enslaved. He said that Aishah would not be arrested should she decide to return to Malaysia. He claimed that Aishah had been on the wanted list in the 70s, as she was considered an extremist.
He also confirmed that when she went to London to study, the police had kept her under surveillance. He did not make it clear if, or when, the surveillance stopped. Khalid’s revelation coupled with the information provided by PKR politician Nurul Izzah Anwar that there are 30 Special Branch (SB) officers in London begs the question: “Why did the Malaysian police not inform the family of Siti Aishah at any point in the past 30 years that Aishah was alive and well and had not disappeared without trace from her last known address?”
Was Khalid being economical with the truth or is he deliberately misleading the public to justify the large numbers of SB personnel operating in London? Was Aishah really being watched in London? Did the police and SB lose sight of her soon after she arrived in London? Was she only briefly under their watch?
Did they keep her family in the dark because her return would generate publicity about another Malay communist, which would be difficult to hide? So they thought it would be best if she were to stay away from Malaysia. They were happy to wash their hands of her. Another Malay communist was one red too many.
Khalid claimed that Aishah would not be arrested if she returned as her communist activities were “in the past”. Does the IGP know for sure that she has renounced her communist ideology?
Malaysians must wonder why Aishah is considered safe but Chin Peng’s ashes are deemed a national threat. The authorities feared that a martyr’s shrine for Chin Peng would be built in Sitiawan. Would Aishah not attract an extraordinary amount of publicity whether or not she still believes in her communist ideology? How will she recover from her trauma if she is not left in peace?
One is dead, the other is alive. According to a colleague who visited Chin Peng a few years before he died, the former Communist Party leader was very articulate, spoke fluent English and was a “nice old gentleman”. He did not show any bitterness about being banned from returning to Malaysia, despite the terms of the Peace Treaty.
A few of Aishah’s acquaintances allege that in 1982 when they last had contact with her Aishah was still committed to her ideology. The British press have reported that Aishah is highly traumatised and the police will not allow consular officials or her sister to contact her.
More disturbing reports emerge. The High Commission in London has said that it would extend its full cooperation to reinstate Aishah’s citizenship if she had unknowingly lost her identification papers during her 30-year imprisonment. We are thankful that the global network of the Foreign Ministry is diligent in performing its responsibilities in assisting Malaysians in various parts of the world.
So why can’t the same assistance be made available by the necessary departments in Malaysia to serve the hundreds of thousands of stateless people who were not registered by their poor and uneducated parents? Parents who may be the rural Orang Asli, the interior bound Penan or Indians who live on rubber estates?
On Nov 23, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry said that it would provide counselling to Aishah. Critics fear that the Women’s Minister is only swapping one ideology with another – communism for Umno-Baruism – and that this would cause Aishah further mental distress.
Wisma Putra, the Women’s Ministry and the IGP are keen to help Aishah. By all means show compassion but make sure that compassion is extended to all Malaysians and not a select few individuals who just happen to be making headlines in the developed world.
If Aishah is promised counselling, the same should be given to the traumatised victims at home; the ostracised Penan women and young girls who were raped by timber workers, the family members of people killed in violent incidents like Batangkali, Memali, Kampung Medan and May 13.
Don’t dance in the limelight just because Aishah’s story is big news in London. Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist.