SINCE ANWAR IBRAHIM WAS arrested in September, his wife Dr. WAN AZIZAH WAN ISMAIL, 46, has been a leader of the fledgling reform movement. Trained as an ophthalmologist, Wan Azizah retired from her profession in 1993, when Anwar became deputy prime minister. And though she remained active in community work, for the most part she was content to stay out of the limelight. Now she has found herself addressing crowds (until a police restriction prevented her from doing so), holding press conferences and giving interviews. At first, Wan Azizah had to refer to handwritten notes and was flanked by lawyers and advisers.
But over the past couple of months, her media savvy has improved. During a recent one-hour interview with Correspondents Santha Oorjitham and Arjuna Ranawana, she was unaccompanied and talked confidently, without notes. Soft-spoken yet passionate, Wan Azizah discussed her role in the reform movement, the implications of Anwar's ongoing trial and how her family is bearing up. Excerpts from the talk:
On her ability to lead the reformasi movement.
Everyone feels it is their movement, their responsibility. Everyone of course is asking me for leadership, but they themselves are providing it because I am so restricted. They tell me not to get into trouble. They care. It's very touching, very endearing.
On Malaysian justice.
The whole world will see how it goes. Why are they still digging for evidence? Why is the allegation of brutality by the police, the medical report, not released? Why are the police putting the blame entirely on the supporters? The press was there. Who is doing the aggression? These arrests were sometimes very random. What are the media doing? You must have both sides of the story.
On Anwar's health.
He is all right - he has lost 18 pounds - but is full of strong spirit. The bruise around the eye has resolved, but we are still waiting for the medical report. He hears all the reports even though he is in prison. He gets the news. When you get the news you can see through that because they are government [media] agencies. He does not get the Net but he gets magazines. The prisoners are very supportive of him. They shouted "reformasi." He told them not to because he would lose his chance of exercise in the compound. He gets the same treatment as any other remand prisoner.
On the doctor who prepared the medical report after the alleged beating.
I heard he has been followed everywhere and his family is also being followed. I don't know what has happened. I would not contact him because that would be tampering and I would not like the authorities to contact him either because that would be tampering on their side.
On how Anwar sees the reformasi movement he started.
He says to carry on and that he's very encouraged by all the support he's getting even though he's behind bars. You can't blame him now for inciting unrest. He says that we are fighting for a just cause, which is what he has been asking for. And now they are seeing it happening, unfolding in front of their eyes.
On daughter Nurul Izzah's role in the reform movement.
As you can see, my daughter is a very strong girl. She has proved her mettle. She carries the fervor and strength of the movement as well - for me, for her and for the family honor. Because at the moment the family honor is at stake. She has been my strength. She has helped me a lot. [She is my] companion, my confidante. She will continue to play a role, but I want her to think of her future because whatever happens, you need a sound education with values and principles. You must be well-educated.
On international support.
[U.S. ambassador John] Mallott gave us a lot of moral support [during a personal visit]. It wasn't in his capacity as an ambassador. It was very nice. [United Nations free speech official] Abed Hussain had very good words to say about me. I was very touched. He said when he came over, he thought he would sense bitterness and animosity but he only saw love and hope. He said there was no sense of revenge and vengeance. Mrs. Patten [wife of former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten] was here, but that was a personal visit. She just wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help. She gave her love and moral support and asked if there was anything that Chris Patten could do.
On how pro-Anwar sentiment might affect the APEC summit.
The prime minister has talked about what our image has been. But the image-breaking is not of our doing. It's more a reaction to what happened before.
On how her family is holding up.
My son [13-year-old Mohamed Ihsan] used to get jeers [at school]. Now they go up to him and say: "Reformasi." [She whispers the word.] Because it's against the school laws to say that word out loud. But they shout in his ear. We are survivors. We have to survive. I'm popping all these vitamins. I have insomnia sometimes, thinking of what tomorrow might bring.