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 Paris, Thursday, October 29, 1998

     Bad News for High-Tech Malaysia
 

     By Alvin Toffler Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES - The future of one of the world's most ambitious digital age
projects is in doubt because of the political upheaval in Malaysia.

Lost in the international furor is the fact that an honor roll of the
world's high-tech leaders - from Bill Gates to the heads of Netscape,
IBM,Hewlett Packard, Oracle, Compaq, Silicon Graphics, Siemens, Sony,NTT and
others - are all members of an international advisory committee to the
Malaysian Multimedia Super Corridor.

The corridor was and remains a visionary project for the Internet age. It is
the attempt to create a Silicon Valley in a country that 30 years ago was
primarily exporting rubber, timber and tin.

What made the project particularly worthwhile was Prime Minister Mahathir
bin Mohamad's promise to pass a set of ''cyber-laws'' to guarantee
participating companies freedom of access to information,freedom to bring in
knowledge workers from other countries, and the best intellectual property
protection in the world. The project envisioned creation of a 21st century
multimedia university, a system for             ''tele-medicine,'' and a
move to electronic government.

Mr. Mahathir seemed to be a leader with an information age vision of the
future. Moreover, he had done much for his country, raising it from poverty
and widening the middle class.

Like many Malaysians themselves, I am perplexed and shocked that Anwar
Ibrahim, who until last month was Mr. Mahathir's anointed successor, was not
only arrested on politically motivated charges ranging from sodomy to
sedition, but turned up in court showing signs that he had been severely beaten.

Mr. Anwar seemed the very symbol of the 21st century, globally linked
economy that Mr. Mahathir wished to build - a worldly, sophisticated leader
who has called for women's rights, freedom of the press and other Third Wave
advances. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and claims that he has
been targeted by Mr. Mahathir's inner circle, who, he  says, fear that he
might expose their corruption if he came to power.

Munawar Anees, former editor of Periodica Islamica and an associate of Mr.
Anwar and friend of mine, was also jailed. In a trial that lasted only 33
minutes, he appeared in court with his head shaven (his colleagues suspect
the application of electrodes) and shaking so severely that he had to be
covered in a blanket. He was sentenced to six months in jail for having
''confessed'' to homosexual relations with Mr. Anwar.

Mr. Anwar has denied this and charged that Mr. Munawar's confession,like
that of others, was forced in order to sully Mr. Anwar's reputation among
his Muslim followers. Lawyers for Mr. Munawar told the court that he has
disavowed the confession, and appealed his sentence.

Unfortunately, these events will reduce the likelihood that the many
companies pledged to participate in the Multimedia Super Corridor project
will continue to do so.

The Internet cannot deliver its full economic and cultural benefits in a
climate of political fear. Mr. Mahathir cannot expect the world's greatest
high-technology companies and leaders, to whom he promised complete freedom
of information and a host of other guarantees, to help bring the digital
future to his country while his police throw his former protégé and  people
like Munawar Anees into jail, beat them, and have to hospitalize  them.

The writer is co-author of ''The Third Wave'' and ''Future Shock.'' This
comment is adapted from a longer article distributed by the Los Angeles
Times Syndicate.