Anwar Sodomy Case - Hard to Believe
Anwar sodomy charges 'hard to believe'
By Mark Colvin
More than 50 Australian Federal MPs have signed a letter to the Malaysian Government protesting against the trial of the former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar, 62, allegedly sodomised 24-year-old Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, in 2008.
He was previously convicted of sodomy in 1998 and served six years in jail. The conviction was later overturned.
The letter describes the new charges against Anwar as hard to believe for many friendly observers of Malaysia.
The man who organised the letter, Melbourne Labor MP Michael Danby, says supporters of the incumbent government are manipulating the legal system to drive Malaysia's best known leader out of national politics.
Barry Wain, a writer in residence at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, says the Anwar trial is widely regarded as a political trial.
"It's sufficient to say that right from the beginning. When he was accused of sodomy the second time around 18 months ago, the public opinion polls showed that almost nobody in Malaysia believed the charges," he said. "The international community does not believe the charges."
The first conviction was overturned after the inspector general of police was found guilty of assaulting Anwar.
Mr Wain says there were other factors at play as well.
"The special branch was found to have kidnapped and intimidated and tortured witnesses who were then required to testify against Anwar," he said.
"One has to understand that political mobilisation in Malaysia takes place on racial lines. Everything is on ethnic lines.
"It's a very dangerous game and it's already led to extremism, and again Anwar's trial can be seen as extreme.
"One would have hoped that Prime Minister Najib Razak might have moved to make sure that the trial didn't take place if he was trying to, as he says he is, operating under a slogan of One Malaysia and trying to bring about ethnic harmony."
Mr Wain says the problems with the Anwar charges, and with much of Malaysia, can be traced back to Dr Mahathir Mohamad's long rule as prime minister.
He says Dr Mahathir broke down the separation between the state, the government and the judiciary.
"The broad area that he did most damage was in institutions. He really cut the institutions adrift in Malaysia," Mr Wain said.
"The judiciary was independent. It was fairly conservative but it worked, and the police force was OK, and other elements in the bureaucracy worked.
"But after 50 years of the party being in power, the bureaucracy and the heads of those bureaucratic institutions have become extensions of the ruling party.
"Dr Mahathir himself definitely interfered with the judiciary. He sought to subjugate the judiciary to get the political outcome he wanted and that opened a way for monetary corruption into the judiciary."
Mr Wain says although Dr Mahathir achieved a lot, he essentially lost Malaysia a lot of money.
"I just took four financial scandals and my estimate was that 50 billion ringgit probably in direct losses in those," he said.
"That would have been $US20 billion at the exchange rate at the time and I think you can double that with the losses that you get through opportunity costs and other things other than the direct amounts."
Mr Wain says that is known to the older generations, particularly politicians, but it was not widely publicised.
"Most of these financial scandals go back to the '80s, so half the population either wasn't born or was in primary school," he said.
"It figured in some of the elections back there in the mid '80s ... and almost defeated [Dr Mahathir].
"The main accusation [was] that Dr Mahathir had taken the ruling party into business and been involved in some of these scams, such as trying to rig the international tin price."