A conversation with Maria’s sons

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PETALING JAYA: Eight days ago, Maria Chin Abdullah, chairperson of the electoral reform movement Bersih 2.0, was arrested under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012, or Sosma, in a raid on the Bersih office a day before the Bersih 5 rally took place in Kuala Lumpur.

Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar explained that her arrest was due to a document seized during the raid. Earlier, Bersih had admitted receiving funds from the Open Society Foundations (OSF), backed by billionaire George Soros.

With her arrest hotly challenged by many quarters, the past week has also seen her three sons in the limelight, talking more to the press to demand for their mother’s release.

FMT spoke to Maria’s three sons, Azumin Mohamad Yunus, 23; Aziman Maria Mohamad Yunus, 22; and Azemi Maria Mohamad Yunus, 20; for an insight into what life has been like for the family during their mother’s detention.

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FMT: The public knows of what happened that day at the Bersih office. What was it like for you, though?

Azumin: We didn’t hear the news straight away. We thought that everything was fine. But around 5 or 6pm, a family friend informed us that they had just arrested our mother, and were holding her in IPD PJ (Petaling Jaya police headquarters). We were told we could go by to visit and pass her her medicines.

We were prepared for the news, because ever since Bersih 2, our mother had been preparing us for the day of her arrest. She kept telling us before every rally: “Maybe I’m going to get arrested, so don’t worry about it too much.” We just packed her medicines and went over to the police station.

FMT: What has dealing with your mother’s current detention in solitary been like for you over the past week?

Aziman: It’s quite unnerving, knowing that her conditions are quite horrible. Her now-empty bed … looking at it every day is quite unnerving for us. To know that we are sleeping on comfortable beds while she is in solitary confinement on wooden floorboards.

Azemi: She was arrested on Friday. They (Aziman and Azumin) were around, I wasn’t around. We met her on Sunday. That was the last time we saw her; we had a nice chat with her for about two hours or so. It was … We’d like to see her again soon. We’ve been having interviews with the media and press and getting exposure.

Azumin: We’re all college students, so we’ve had to balance our lives with our college studies. Even though our mum is in solitary confinement, she made it a point for us that we should continue our studies. I’ve been attending classes and trying to balance my life with going for press interviews and studies.

FMT: You said earlier that she prepared you for this day…

Azumin: She would keep on telling us that one day, the government might actually decide to issue an arrest (warrant).

Aziman: We were psychologically prepared for the arrest, but not detention under Sosma. That was a huge shock for the family; this act isn’t supposed to be used as a political tool. It’s quite surprising to see things like this.

Azumin: A lot of friends and family members have come out to support us in this time of need.

Aziman: It has been overwhelming.

Azumin: It helps a lot.

FMT: How much does your mother mix her work with family?

Aziman: The important thing for our parents was that we were not overly exposed to their line of work. They tried to prioritise our studies; they were afraid that if they brought us into their line of work, it could jeopardise our studies. The main priority for our parents had been our studies. They thought very highly of education.

Azumin: To answer that question, yeah, our parents actually did explain their line of work to us. It’s just that, as my brother said, they preferred that we not get too involved. Mainly because of studies, and also because they don’t want our faces out in the media in case people start sending death threats to the family. Whatever is meant for work is out there in the office. Once they’re back home, it’s about family time. They actually managed to keep that balance really well.

FMT: How old were you guys when you first became aware of what actually was going on with your parents?

Aziman: It was in our early teens that we became fully aware. When we were younger, we sort of knew that they weren’t working as regular engineers and things like that, compared to our friends at the time. As we grew older, we fully understood that their line of work was a lot less conventional. After realising that, we still fully supported them.

FMT: Are your friends aware of what is going on?

All (laughing): Yes, they are definitely aware.

Azumin: The thing is, even though our friends know who our parents are, our parents made it a point to treat our friends like family as well.

FMT: Is there any pressure for you to do what your mother is doing?

Aziman: We don’t feel it. Our mother prioritises education and has not overly pressured her children. Our parents would be happy if we did our best. Even in our career choices, she doesn’t want to pressure her children into entering her line of work. She has been quite lenient with her children’s life choices.

Azumin: Only close friends know who we are and who our parents are. We mainly keep our identity quite low profile; we don’t want too much attention. We want to be treated as normal people.

FMT: Going back to when your mother first started her work, can you elaborate on what that was like? What was the first incident, besides Bersih, that made you really realise what your parents were doing?

Azumin: We were kids, they were really active with human rights work. Both our parents at the time were strong advocates of abolishing the ISA (Internal Security Act). They would prepare lots of speeches, rallies, stuff like that. From there, we kind of learned what ISA was. They explained that our father was detained under ISA as well. Why it’s so important to abolish such an act. We realised that our parents, like what my brother said, were not doing the normal kind of work. More towards human rights. As we grew older, we started accepting that what they do is really important.

FMT: Do you see yourself going in your parent’s direction and doing what your parents did?

Azemi: For me, not quite.

Azumin: Personally, I hope there is no need for that. That in the future, the country will be a better place. I’d prefer a country in the future that doesn’t need all of these campaigns. For me to follow in her line, I don’t really see it that much. I’m planning to do a degree in psychology, more towards counselling. That’s what I’m leaning towards right now.

Aziman: I don’t really see myself following into that line of work as well.

Azemi: But we will still actively support her.

Aziman: Even if we’re working in other jobs, we will still try our best to support causes like this.