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Missing Flight Mystery; Saudi Human Rights Record; Imagine a World

Aired March 19, 2014 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

Investigating Flight 370, the Malaysian government now appears to be flying blind and waiting for news of what happened is becoming unbearable agony for those with the most to lose: the families.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): After 11 days of this torture, grief, anger and sheer desperation exploded into a scene that has ricocheted around the world. The greatest aviation mystery in our lifetime, the longest search ever has spawned the kind of 24/7 coverage that is a conspiracy theorist's dream, everything from the sensible to the supernatural.

Even global media magnates aren't immune, as this tweet from Rupert Murdoch proves, quote, "World seems transfixed by 777 disappearance. Maybe no crash but stolen, effectively hidden, perhaps in Northern Pakistan, like bin Laden."


AMANPOUR: But bin Laden wasn't found in Northern Pakistan, was he? Oh, well.

One of the more bizarre theories links the pilot of Flight 370, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, to Malaysia's main opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim.

This particular speculation holds that Shah, a member of Anwar's party, was so distraught at him being sentenced again in a politically motivated court hearing that he entered the cockpit of Flight 370 that night with evil intentions.

No matter there's been no evidence at all to support any of this, as investigators pore over the flight simulator from Shah's home, I put these allegations directly to Anwar Ibrahim. He joined me earlier from the Malaysian capital.


AMANPOUR: Anwar Ibrahim, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me.

ANWAR IBRAHIM, MALAYSIAN MP: Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: I just want to start by asking you how does it feel to be caught up in this way in this incredible drama, this incredible mystery and this tragedy that's unfolding?

IBRAHIM: Christiane, at the first level, I'm used to this. Most of the problems confronted by this country, they are partially blamed to me. But this is unfortunate because it's affecting the image and also the credibility and also affecting the lives of many of innocent people, including the pilot. And I think it is grossly unfair, the proportion of blame without a shred of evidence being educed.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, because, of course, you mentioned the pilot and this is the crux of the issue here. So let me ask you frankly, can you describe to me how closely you are related? What is his family relationship to you?

IBRAHIM: He is related to my daughter-in-law, who's now working in New York. Now I know him, not as a family member, but as a member of the ruling party. And I've met him on a number of occasions during party meetings, clamoring for reforms, supporting us in the elections for democracy in Malaysia.

AMANPOUR: I want to read how one of your spokesman described Mr. Shah, the pilot.

"He is Anwar's son's wife's mother's father's brother's son."

Does that sound right?

IBRAHIM: That's a bit too complex. What my daughter-in-law told me is that he is a family member, not too close, but he -- she calls him Uncle, which is quite common here.

But I know him basically as a party activist.

AMANPOUR: So I want to know how well you know him and what can you tell us about him, because clearly, the allegations, the rumors, the inference is that he was somehow motivated by what's happening to you politically to do this act. These are terrible charges. I just want to know how well you know him.

IBRAHIM: He appears at some of the meetings in the province and quite passionate about issues of justice and democracy.

But he's known to be a great professional pilot, a great family man and I don't see him to be in any way controversial or taking any radical stance. And I have great difficulty in understanding why they are casting aspersions against him purely because I'm known to him.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that he was a fanatic?

IBRAHIM: Certainly he is not. I mean, he supports our multiracial coalition. He supports a democratic reform. He's against any form of extremism. And we take a very strong position in clamoring for change through constitutional and democratic means, although the electoral process is fraudulent.

AMANPOUR: Was he in the courtroom that particular day when the flight took off where you were, again, sentenced to jail?

IBRAHIM: Millions of people were upset by the manner the court decided in one hour to pass this severe judgment against me. But he was not in the court; he may have been outside in the premises of the court, because the court has a limited capacity.

But from what I gather, from many of our colleagues, nobody actually saw him the premises of the court.

AMANPOUR: Did you hear from him or did your party members hear from him about what he thought of what happened in the court?

In other words, was he specifically upset, do you know that?

IBRAHIM: Well, I gather later, from many of his colleagues and from what is written about him, that he was disturbed. Many others were disturbed, I mean, we were shocked and appalled by the speed and the process of the court of appeals.

But I think that's quite normal. I don't think something that would trigger a person of his expertise, caliber to do any unwanted activity. I'm absolutely certain of that, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Ibrahim, you obviously, like the whole world, must be looking at this mystery flight and wondering what on Earth could have happened.

How do you describe how the government has handled the investigation and the communications about it?

IBRAHIM: Our sympathies are to -- firstly, to the crew members and the passengers and the families, yes. But -- and we must express our profound appreciation to those, I mean, in the government, the apparatus, whatever, working to secure and to find out what actually happened and pray for their safety.

But from my understanding, I mean, Christiane, when they procure that radar, Marconi system, in that northern corridor -- I happened to be the finance minister. They had the capability to detect any flight from the west or to the east to the west coast, from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.

I find it shocking that they are not -- they were not able or they give some very scanty sort of information. The problem is credibility of the leadership. They are culpable because there is a general perception that they are not opening up, there is an opaque system at work.

AMANPOUR: Well, Mr. Ibrahim, you've just told us something new about this radar system. And you say you have first-hand information about it because of being minister of finance at the time.

So then, yes, there is opaqueness. Yes, the government is being blamed and criticized for not being able to get any kind of facts straight and for changing and not being able to give facts out in a timely manner.

Is there something within, I don't know, the culture, the government, that simply is not used to giving out these kinds of facts? Is there a, I don't know, some kind of culture of national security? What is it, do you think, that's holding them back?

IBRAHIM: I appreciate if the argument is national security, if the information is something which will threaten our own survival as a nation. But I mean, this case is just to detect an unauthorized flight as they claim, crossing from or flying from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean, passing through a few of our provinces.

And I can't find any laudable explanation to support that -- the case that they are presenting now.

Why was this not detected? If it was detected, why were people not told? And why have you to allow for millions of dollars spent search and -- or rescue and search and rescue in the South China Sea, knowing fairly well that the plane had left towards the Indian Ocean?

This is not national security. This is clearly incompetence.

AMANPOUR: What is your theory about what happened to the plane?

IBRAHIM: I'm at great difficulty understanding this, too, mysterious to me. And I do appreciate that this is a complex matter, unprecedented. I have my sympathies, but then the problem is the issue of governance.

Now the Malaysian authorities and leadership were only used to a compliant, government-controlled media; the people just say yes to whatever they say. Now they have to confront with an independent free media. Then nobody questions whatever the chief of the Air Force or the chief of the Army, when they issued a statement. Now people are saying, look, there are many experts disputing some of the arguments.

So I think the issue is now the issue of governance, the refusal to acknowledge the fact that this is 2014; you can't govern in the old, obsolete ways.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me -- let me put that to you and let's turn to the political right now.

I want to play you a little bit of what Prime Minister Razak told me when I interviewed him a few months ago and he told me this about his governance.


NAJIB RAZAK, PM, MALAYSIA: Since I took over office, I've got a very positive record. For example, I have disbanded the internal security act, which is detention without trial. I've ended 50 years of emergency rule in Malaysia or powers relating to emergency rule in Malaysia.

I've allowed for peaceful assembly in Malaysia. So I stand by my record.


AMANPOUR: It sounds pretty credible, doesn't it, Mr. Anwar Ibrahim?


IBRAHIM: Impressive pronouncements. But the internal security act was replaced by the coding act, the SOSMA. Party leaders, oppositionists still being arrested and charged for sedition. One leading member of the opposition has been fined and been thrown out of parliament because of sedition.

There's of course my case, where they rushed through the court process in one hour to decide on a very important case. Now many other members of parliament are now waiting for their turn. Media is completely under the control of the government. If you talk -- you mention transformation, impressive pronouncement, but hardly any action.

AMANPOUR: Anwar Ibrahim, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

IBRAHIM: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And of course, we continue to seek comment from the Malaysian prime minister and senior officials there on this continuing investigation.

And if transparency is the elusive coin of the realm in Malaysia, here in Britain another kind of coin is being put out to pasture. Britain's one- pound coin has done yeoman's duty for over 30 years. But it's become easy prey for counterfeiters, with an estimated 45 million fakes in circulation.

So in 2017, it'll be replaced by this shiny new version with Queen Elizabeth on the heads side while a competition will determine the design for the tails, minted with 12 sides from two different metals it'll also contain a cutting-edge security feature designed to thwart would-be forgeries.

And yet it also pays homage to the past and the threepenny bit, a favorite coin during the London Blitz of World War II; with those same distinctive 12 sides, it was back then easy to find during the many blackouts.

And after a break, we'll turn to one of the richest nations on Earth, Saudi Arabia. Can it afford not to improve the rights of all its people, especially its women? That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: The kingdom of Saudi Arabia today responded to a damning U.N. reporting listing a catalog of human rights abuses in their country. The United Nations made 225 recommendations on a range of issues, including the rights of migrant workers, seen here protesting in Riyadh, as well as freedom of expression and the death penalty.

Saudi Arabia insists it's making progress but admits there is still a long way to go, particularly of course in the realm of women's rights. Women are still banned from driving and on child marriages they have not yet come up with a minimum legal age. And right now, girls as young as 8 are being married off.

Ahmad Al-Fahaid is Saudi Arabia's deputy labor minister. I spoke to him from Geneva a short while ago about the kingdom's bleak human rights record.


AMANPOUR: Dr. Al-Fahaid, thank you for joining me. Welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So the international community demanded of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia a whole raft of improvements in your human rights record.

What are the most important ones that Saudi Arabia chose to work on?

AL-FAHAID: Very for sure is that, I mean, Saudi Arabia, you know, once attempted recommendations, most of the recommendations that we brought, you know, Saudi Arabia.

And in fact, I mean, most of these attempted recommendations already implemented in Saudi Arabia, the ratification of ILO, International Labor Organization Convention, 138 regarding the minimum working age.

AMANPOUR: OK, let's move on. Nine million girls, women and girls, their rights are violated in Saudi Arabia as well as 9 million foreign workers.

Let us specifically talk about women and girls, because the world has its eye on Saudi Arabia, on this issue.

Did you make any progress or give any assurances, for instance, that women would not have to be hostage to male guardians, that they could actually go out and live their lives without the permission of either their husbands, their fathers or, as we know, their younger sons, if it comes to that?

AL-FAHAID: This is on a very important issue for Saudi Arabia. Women issue is very important and in fact we are tackling it from two different angles.

The first one is about, you know, education, above-ground educational view.

The second, which is very important, is that economically, you know, also empowerment.

AMANPOUR: OK, well, let me ask you about this whole employment issue, because it is a big issue. King Abdullah has, over the last several years, decided on this policy of feminization of certain parts of the economy. For instance, saying that women can work in lingerie shops instead of men, saying that women can sell makeup and work in supermarkets as cashiers.

How successful has that been?

AL-FAHAID: It's in fact very successful and we are, in fact, in all kinds of -- in all fields that we are trying our best to find the, you know, suitable and decent jobs for our women.

AMANPOUR: But I wonder if you can react to this. There was a YouTube clip posted not so long ago, showing clerics telling your boss, who's actually the Minister of Labor, that they would pray for him to get cancer unless the law to replace women, to have women in retail stores, is not reversed.

I mean, what is your reaction to that?

AL-FAHAID: In fact, we consider that and we are, you know, we're having -- we are managing again the change that we are putting. I mean, this, again, for the first question that you put, I mean, we have, you know, a very significant changes real, I mean, happening in Saudi Arabia. And these changes you can see it. And those are in on the ground in Saudi Arabia. You can -- you can feel it. You can see it.

If you, you know, go now on Riyadh, in the capital, I mean, you -- compared to five years ago, there's a lot of changes happening on the ground.

AMANPOUR: Except not in the other thing that's a real barometer and that is in the permission for women to drive. It's still illegal.

I remember covering the first such demonstration back in 1990, just before the first Gulf War. And 20 years later, I met a young Saudi woman in New York, and she was driving with me in her car in New York and I asked her what message she was sending to the king and to your authorities.

Listen to what she said.


MANAL AL-SHARIF, SAUDI ACTIVIST: It's a symbolic act of the woman right, we want to be full citizens. I'm educated. I have a job. And I should be able to -- I should be trusted to drive my own car.


AMANPOUR: How long before Saudi women will be able to drive their car?

AL-FAHAID: Again, I mean, we are looking at this very carefully. I mean, it's a culture and also our priority now is to ensure that, you know, empowerment of our women and as I mentioned, I mean, the two subjects that I mentioned about the economic side and employment and the educational side.

And also our commitment here, as a -- as a government, whenever we made any commitment, we stick to it. And we implement it. We sustain, you know, oversee it. And these are the things that, you know, we are taking it and again the change will not stop. And we will see a lot of, you know, full changes in the near future.

AMANPOUR: When people hear you say that, that you're committed but it'll take a long, long time, I have to read you this criticism from the Human Rights Watch, who basically says that Saudi Arabia's efforts to burnish its human rights record are at best mere window dressing and at worst an attempt to obscure the repression at home.

That's a pretty serious charge.

How do you react to that?

AL-FAHAID: We are serious about all kind of -- you know, all kind of the recommendations that, you know, being attempted and we will see it very soon on the ground.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Al-Fahaid, thank you very much for joining me.

AL-FAHAID: Thank you very much.


AMANPOUR: And after a break, we'll take another look at the story that has rekindled memories and worries of an oppressive resurgent Russian empire, carving out Crimea. Imagine getting a glimpse inside the mind of Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. One intrepid photographer did. How he captured this 21st century czar when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, Ukrainian officials say they are pulling their forces back from Crimea, a day after Russia took control of the province. Inevitably, Vladimir Putin's power play and his land grab in the heart of Europe invites questions and comparisons about conquering kings like Peter the Great.

Now imagine a world where the eye of the camera got close enough to get the answer. Back in 2007 when Putin was named "Time" magazine's Person of the Year, the renowned photographer, Platon, went to the Kremlin to take his cover picture and he came away with this insightful close-up. As the Ukraine crisis flared, CNN asked him to recall his impressions of his 21st century czar.


PLATON, PHOTOGRAPHER: I was about an inch and a half away from Putin's nose when I did those pictures. And I could feel his breathing on my hand. So it's about as intimate as it can get.

It was "Time's" Person of the Year and I was sent to Moscow to do the picture and at gunpoint I'm led into the building.

And then Putin walks in and he's surrounded by his translators, his team of advisers and about 10 bodyguards. It was pretty intimidating. And I said to him, "I'm a massive Beatles fan. Are you?"

He speaks to me and he says, "I love The Beatles."

So I said, "What's your favorite Beatle?"

And he said, "Paul."

So I said what's your favorite song?

And he said, "Ah, 'Yesterday.'"

Think about it.

That's how I got the truth. And the truth is that that's the face of power. It's the face of cold authority. And the irony is as much as it showed him as this tough, sort of nationalist leader, the opposition to Putin have claimed the picture. They've claimed it for themselves to show everything that's wrong with power. It's become the banner for the opposition.

What I'm striving for is to humanize the power, to ask a very important question, who are you? Who are you really?


AMANPOUR: And as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. But Putin, like Russia itself, remains what Churchill called it, "A riddle wrapped up in a mystery inside an enigma," and that's it for our program tonight. And remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.