Malaysia’s judiciary on trial in Anwar case

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

MGG Pillai

Dhu al-Hijjah 14, 1419 1999-04-01

South-East Asia

by MGG Pillai (South-East Asia, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 3, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1419)

The Anwar Ibrahim corruption trial ended abruptedly on March 23, when the presiding judge, Justice Augustine Paul, ended proceedings without the defence having completed presented their closing arguments. The defence wished to place complaints about the judge’s conduct of the case on record, which he refused to permit. Instead he declared the case closed and said that a judgement would be delivered on April 6.

This was a remarkable turn of events even in the context of Mr Justice Paul’s previous conduct of the case. The defence had already been refused permission to call 10 potential witnesses, including three men who were alleged to have had sex with the ousted deputy prime minister. The case frequently raised political temperature as the defiant charismatic politician insisted throughout the trial that his present predicament was the direct result of a political conspiracy that involved the prime minister, Dato Seri Mahathir Mohamed and several of his cabinet ministers. The court disallowed this, but a sideshow of a royal commission into how Anwar suffered a black eye and other injuries after his arrest last September clearly implicated the former Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor. The former police chief resigned and later admitted to the commission that he had ‘lost his cool’ and hit Anwar in his cell on the night of his arrest. Anwar’s trial has shaken Mahathir’s hold over the country, with massive, largely Malay demonstrations that have divided the politically dominant Malay community. What began as a corruption and sodomy trial collapsed quickly when the prosecution not only could not prove its case, but found itself being disbelieved. It was forced to amend the sodomy charges to concentrate on the four corruption charges. Incredibly, the judge then called for the 45 days of testimony to be expunged, all related to the sodomy and adultery allegations. He ordered, in essence, that the people should erase these from their memory, and deprived Anwar of the opportunity to rebut these scandalous allegations. Details of the charges against Anwar were splashed in the newspapers in lurid detail for weeks. Even the prime minister had said last September that Anwar could not become the prime minister because of his ‘immoral’ behaviour! He had already pronounced the former deputy prime minister guilty without waiting for the courts - his own - to deliver the verdict.

The charges remaining against Anwar are not corruption as such but using his office to ensure allegations against him were removed. This is common practice in Malaysia. In Anwar’s case, evidence was adduced to show that he ordered this only after the Special Branch itself had established that the sodomy and adultery allegations by the sister of his principal aide were false. The conduct of the case has also raised many eyebrows, with the judge even insisting that the defence justify the calling of witnesses, and ordered the press not to report contentious testimony that linked Anwar’s conversation to high ranking officials. The defendant was extended no such right when the government media were going overboard with allegations of Anwar’s sexual misconduct.

Dato’ Seri Anwar is in no doubt that he would be convicted. When asked how long he expected to be in jail, he replied in a matter of fact manner: ‘Two years, four years... it makes no difference.’ A conviction would automatically remove him from the political scene for five years after the end of his sentence.

He has consistently maintained that there is a political conspiracy against him hatched at the highest level. Even if the court did not allow the defence to pursue this line, most people in the country believe it. His efforts to force changes in the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) were the best organised ever, although it is unclear whether they would have had the desired results.

His trial opened on November 2. After the charges were amended five weeks ago, Mr Justice Paul refused to allow the adducing evidence that went beyond the amended charges of using his position to ensure sexual allegations against him were removed. Dato’ Seri Anwar told reporters he was not surprised by the judge’s decision. ‘It is unfortunate that 10 key witnesses have been denied. It is okay, it is not surprising,’ he said. He faces up to 14 years in jail if he is convicted on corruption charges. Even if he is acquitted in the present case, other charges are pending: one for corruption and five of sodomy.

The trial’s tortuous process has raised many questions about the breakdown of Malaysian institutions, from the spectre of routine police violence to the impartiality of the judiciary. Whatever the verdictûûand there is little doubt about thatûû the government now has to contend with a far more serious problem: the issue of impartiality of State institutions. Unlike Anwar Ibrahim, this is an issue which Mahathir Mohamed cannot hope to put behind bars and forget about.

Muslimedia: April 1-15, 1999

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