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TIME: What did the other police who visited say?
Azizah: They came in good faith and asked me to follow the laws and disperse the crowd, because it was causing a disturbance on the streets. I told them, "I have a right to speak as a Malaysian citizen. My husband has been detained. I have to speak out, please understand that." I kept telling them I will abide by their rule. I took down the speakers and spoke to the press outside quietly. The police told me, "Be patient." I told them that Anwar had all these rallies, and there were no untoward incidents. At the courts I could see they used undue force on innocent bystanders. I told them if you start with aggression, the reflex will be aggression. They kept quiet on that. I'm not trying to do anything, I'm only trying to defend my husband.

TIME: Are you prepared to be arrested?
Azizah: Frankly, I don't want to be arrested. But whether they arrest me or not, they have the power. That much I know. But I haven't transgressed the law. You tell me, I'll follow. I just voice my concerns.

TIME: Will you speak at any rallies?
Azizah: No. The police have come twice, so it was kind of a stern message.

TIME: Did you ever think the Prime Minister would go this far?
Azizah: No. I respected him. I thought he was a great leader. He has done a lot for our country. I did not think he would do this. I would like to tell him, "Please listen to the voice of sanity."

TIME: If your husband is allegedly a homosexual or whatever, why would the government need to arrest all these other people?
Azizah: Exactly. As Anwar has said, it is only to bring him down, so he does not become the next Prime Minister. Ever.

TIME: Do you think Anwar will ever become Prime Minister?
Azizah: In my hopes and my prayers, for the sake of the country. But it's difficult. I am not saying this just because he is my husband. And the next thing they will say is, "Azizah wants to be the first lady, that's why she is saying all this."

TIME: Were you surprised by the momentum that built up after he was fired?
Azizah: Of course. At first, we said, "O.K., lah, they have all the forces of government behind them--the judiciary, the police, the media." But then the ordinary people on the street, they started saying things, that they were concerned about their future. Before, it was, "Oh well it is only one guy, too bad, lah." But now it seems like a square fight. It touched me very deeply. I believe in the goodness of people. That is really my strength now.

TIME: Was Anwar surprised?
Azizah: Yes he was. When he was a student leader, he was mainly among the Malays. But now his support crosses all walks of life. They see the injustice. It really brings all the Malaysians together.

TIME: Do you think Prime Minister Mahathir has made a mistake here?
Azizah (laughing): I think he has been wrongly advised.

TIME: Are you going to use the Internet to rally the people?
Azizah: Yes, we have been using it. Because all the other avenues, the private and public press, have been closed.

TIME: What is your strategy?
Azizah: I can't disclose it right now. I have to take care.

TIME: Are you worried the momentum will fade now that Anwar is behind bars?
Azizah: No. Because now the spark has been lit. I am very optimistic.

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R E L A T E D   L I N K S :

POLL Can Wan Azizah Ismail sustain her husband's reform movement?
POLL Should Anwar have been arrested as a threat to national security?
POLL Will the currency controls help Malaysia?


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October 5, 1998

Rocked by street protests, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad tries to squelch a budding reform movement by jailing former duputy Anwar Ibrahim. But has the crackdown come too late?

Anwar's wife picks up the mantle

The economy will decide Mahathir's fate