Monday, July 6, 2009
Malaysia Anwar's Long-Delayed Trial to Begin
Malaysia's Judicial System Is Under as Much Scrutiny as the Defendant
Anwar Ibrahim, the former deputy prime minister leading Malaysia's resurgent opposition coalition, is to go on trial Wednesday on year-old sexual perversion allegations that once again will also put the country's judicial system on trial before a skeptical public. In June 2008, a 24-year-old former aide to Anwar, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, filed the charges in a police kiosk at Kuala Lumpur Hospital, accusing the 61-year-old Anwar of forcibly sodomizing him in a posh neighborhood just minutes away from Parliament. Sodomy in Malaysia is punishable by caning and up to 20 years in prison.
The case has been heavily criticized. Almost immediately after the charges were filed by Saiful, the doctor who examined him said there was no evidence of anal intercourse. Anwar has supplied an alibi for the night in question. The charges have been reduced from forcible rape to consensual sex, which is illegal under Malaysian law, but Saiful hasn't been charged despite his claim that he was a participant.
Anwar has repeatedly said the charges were engineered to wreck his political career. Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the controversial editor of the popular internet political blog Malaysia Today, has repeatedly tied Saiful to Najib Tun Razak, who was deputy prime minister when the charges and was named prime minister in April. (It should be pointed out that Raja Petra has been notoriously unreliable on some of his charges, deeply well informed on others.)
Anwar, of course, has been here before. In September 1998, he was sacked by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad from his post, ending his role as Mahathir's protégé and heir apparent. He was arrested soon after on similar charges of sodomy as well as corruption. As with the current round of charges, numerous discrepancies emerged and legal experts called the charges into question. Nonetheless, Anwar ultimately served six years before the charges were reversed after Mahathir left office.