Mabel Au is an activist who has fought for the rights of migrant and sex workers in Hong Kong. She is Program Coordinator for the Committee for Asian Women. Mabel recently visited Australia to campaign for the release of Tian Chua, a labour activist who was jailed for two years in April 2001 under Malaysia’s Internal Security Act. Alison Thorne spoke to Mabel, who is also Tian Chua’s partner.
“Malaysia is ethnically diverse. The major ethnic groups are Indian, Malay and Chinese. Over the years, the government divided the different groups to prevent multi-ethnic alliances. Tian is Malaysian Chinese. He and his colleagues belong to the National Justice Party, a political party which emphasises multi-ethnic organising. This organising has been enormously important because they managed to break down Mahathir’s divide-and-rule policies. When people come together, the ruling government is very threatened. The various oppositional parties — which have now formed a united front — are a real threat to Mahathir. As popular support for the opposition grew, the government felt threatened.
Another reason why Tian is in jail is that he is not just a politician. He is a human rights activist. He is a campaigner. He is a labour activist. He has a very broad international network, and what they are struggling for is to broaden civil rights — that is very dangerous to the ruling élite. Lots of people support his work and have developed a deeper understanding of the Malaysian situation. Tian’s internationalism has enabled him to mobilise people in other countries to support human rights in Malaysia.
Tian and his colleagues have also supported international human rights struggles. It is very similar to the situation of Irene Xavier and her colleagues, who were jailed in 1987. The solidarity actions taken by the people who I have met convinces me that international solidarity really works. It makes me feel very encouraged when I find that people are supporting us — not just Tian but also the family, which needs support in order to come out and carry on the campaign. International solidarity makes a lot of difference and can really pressure the Malaysian government.”