Malaysia's Rape Scandal: Was there One?

Two Indonesian agencies, one a government body and the other an NGO, are offering opposing stories on whether an Indonesian maid was raped by Malaysian Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim in 2007. But whether she was or wasn't, it has become the latest episode in a feud between the 68-year-old Rais and Malaysian bloggers who gave the story wide currency, with overtones of an attempt to drive him out of the cabinet.

One agency said the woman, identified by her single name as Robingha, denied being raped although another said that four years ago she told them she had indeed been sexually assaulted. Jumhur Hidayat, chairman of the National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers, said Friday in Jakarta that the maid had delivered a written statement to four of the board's personnel in central Java that she had never been raped and that she had been treated well in Rais's home.

However, Anis Hidayah, the director of Migrant Care, an Indonesian NGO, said the woman had reported in 2007 that she had indeed been raped and that a report had been filed with the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur and the Indonesian National Police. Anis Hidayah said Rubingah had claimed at the time that she had been raped.

"She told us in 2007 that she was raped," Hidayah told the Jakarta Globe, adding that the NGO had never meant to publicize the investigation beyond submitting it to authorities and the embassy. Despite reports otherwise, former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the report had not been given to the Malaysian cabinet while he was premier.

"Everybody here is treating it as if it's over," said a well-placed political source in Kuala Lumpur. Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and other political figures hinted Saturday that the story about Rais could have been brought up now, amid rumors of a cabinet reshuffle, because his adversaries want him dropped from the government.

Any possible physical evidence obviously has long ago disappeared and at this point it would appear to be the maid's word against Rais's unless a witness were to suddenly appear, and it seems doubtful that the matter will go any further. Last week the minister issued an outraged statement denying the allegations and charged that bloggers and opposition parties were behind them. Rais dropped out of the running in 2007 to become Commonwealth Secretary a week after the date on the Migrant Care report on the allegations.

"I refute the allegations, whether they are about raping any individual four years ago or any other allegation, raised by bloggers on the Internet or by any political entity," he said, calling the report "heaps of libellous statements and awful, ugly and wicked lies."

The confrontation between Rais and the bloggers started in September last year. The bloggers are more closely connected to the United Malays National Organization than to the opposition, including one called Rocky's Bru, written by Ahirudin Bin Attan, President of the National Press Club of Malaysia, and a second, only known as bigdogblogcom. Rocky's Bru historically has been closely aligned with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad although insiders in Kuala Lumpur say Mahathir didn't have anything to do with the current controversy.

The two alleged that Rais' son's telecommunication company was one of nine companies which had benefitted from the government grant to develop the broadband connectivity access in Malaysia.

Ahirudin wrote a blog entry calling the information minister "Santa Rais" and intimating he had steered a RM1 billion contract to improve the country's 3G and broadband reception to three favored companies and hinting that Rais's son was somehow involved.

Rais told local media that none of his family members was "even remotely associated with those slanted and ill-intended allegations, and will forthwith assert my rights under the law and report the matter to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) so that an investigation could be under way".

He promptly filed a police report against Ahirudin and the bigdogdotcom blogger, who were hauled up before the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission and asked to explain themselves.

The matter has also become a bone of contention between the two countries, which have been deadlocked over treatment of workers in Malaysia. Indonesia imposed a ban on allowing workers to go to Malaysia in June after a series of high-profile cases in which Indonesians were physically abused by their employers. Other issues included the guarantee of minimum wages for migrant workers and who must shoulder worker placement fees along with other issues. Indonesian workers say employers hold their workers' passports and many don't allow a weekly day off. Many Indonesian workers also complain that they are barred from associating with fellow workers or contacting their embassy.

Neither Indonesia nor Malaysia has ratified Convention 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining. Indonesia has not ratified Conventions 138 and 182 on abolishing child labor. Malaysia did ratify Convention 105 on eliminating forced and compulsory labor in 1958, only to reverse its decision in 1990.