MEDIA publicity, locally and even internationally, has turned the sorry plight of Malaysian national, Richard Lau of Sarawak into a state and national cause celebre. Lau is being detained without charge in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over an apparent business dispute between the Sarawak company he represents and local counterparts since April last year.
Being detained in the UAE indefinitely based on little more than a formal complaint from a local citizen is apparently so notoriously commonplace that international support groups such as “Detained in Dubai” have sprung up. Getting locked up for nine months while investigations are ongoing seems, on the surface, to be a tad unreasonable, no matter what the merits of any case under prevailing local laws.
Lau’s family, believing him to be innocent, was obviously outraged but largely helpless. It had to take the very proactive personal intervention of Foreign Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman to draw top-level official attention in the UAE to Lau’s plight. It’s only after Anifah took the unprecedented step of visiting Lau personally in detention did UAE officialdom finally relent and release him on bail on the eve of Chinese New Year when ordinarily any Chinese family will endeavour to come together for the traditional reunion dinner.
Lau was understood to be in tears over the lengths the minister personally took to have him released from detention. His family was naturally elated. Lau’s sister Eileen told the local media: “We are overjoyed and relieved that Richard is finally out on bail. We are truly grateful to Datuk Seri Anifah, who kept his promise and personally met with UAE authorities to secure Richard’s release.”
Concerned Sarawakians and Malaysians watching and following from a distance as this developed cannot, but be impressed and relieved over the positive turn of events for Lau. His legal troubles are far from over, but, at least he will now be able to fight them with relative freedom and some comfort in the knowledge that many Malaysians officially and privately are now interested in how his plight is progressing.
Malaysians are increasingly finding themselves in strange foreign lands either on business or for tourism purposes. Inevitably, some of them will, from time to time, find themselves in personal predicaments of one sort or another from unforeseen events and circumstances, either natural or man-made.
For them, there is the immeasurable comfort in the knowledge that Malaysia’s diplomatic and consular presence abroad is now truly global and spans all the inhabited continents and well over a hundred countries. Increasingly, too, these Malaysian diplomatic offices will be tapped to be in the service of Malaysians abroad who find themselves in some sort of jeopardy.
It is reassuring to note how even the foreign minister himself takes to the job of helping Malaysians in distress abroad seriously and personally. That must send a very clear message to all his diplomatic officers that extending consular assistance to such Malaysians will increasingly be as important, if not more important, as other normal diplomatic duties and responsibilities our high commissions, embassies and consulates abroad routinely take on. This will become more so as Malaysians will increasingly come to expect nothing less from their official representatives abroad.
The world beyond our shores is growing ever more complex and unknown, and unexpected risks and dangers lurk, especially for peripatetic Malaysians unfamiliar with local customs and practices abroad, to say nothing of different legal regimes. It is incumbent upon any Malaysian travelling abroad to try his level best to familiarise himself with the country or countries being visited as much as possible so as not to be caught unawares.
It will be advisable for Malay-sians, especially those living or staying for extended periods overseas, to stay in touch with our diplomatic offices abroad precisely in case of such unforeseen eventualities.
The writer views developments
in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point
in Kuching, Sarawak