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Malaysia’s Sham Trial

by Joshua Kurlantzick
September 30, 2011

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim smiles as he arrives at courthouse for his sodomy trial in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim smiles as he arrives at courthouse for his sodomy trial in Kuala Lumpur (Bazuki Muhammad/Courtesy Reuters).

Much has changed in Southeast Asia over the past decade. But travel to downtown Kuala Lumpur today, and walk along the Moorish-influenced public greens, and suddenly the Malaysian capital seems trapped in the 1990s.

At that time, the Asian financial crisis was battering the country’s economy, and urbanites hit by the downturn and frustrated by the country’s tightly controlled political system, had taken to the streets, where they were met by riot control troops, who battered them on a daily basis until the government’s long-ruling coalition put Anwar Ibrahim, the country’s popular opposition leader, on trial. The charge: Sodomy, a serious crime in a predominantly Muslim nation.

Though the trial was a farce—accusers later recanted their statements, and Anwar appeared in court with what the government called a “self-inflicted” black eye—he was convicted, and ultimately served six years in prison.

Today, the same story seems to be unfolding across the city. Anwar is again on trial for sodomy, in a sketchy case full of holes, which the government seems to have initiated to end his career and weaken the opposition. As a result, tens of thousands of middle-class Malaysians have been rallying, both to demand his freedom and for greater political openness, and once again, the government has responded with beatings, tear gas, and water cannon.

Yet unlike a decade ago, the demonstrators aren’t likely to give up so easily. Though Anwar could once again be sent to jail, Malaysian politics have been changed irrevocably—both by him and by the current prime minister—and Malaysians seem unwilling today to accept anything less than real democracy.

In today’s Newsweek Daily Beast, I have an analysis of Anwar’s trial, and the significant changes in Malaysian politics today. You can read the whole here.

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  • Posted by Mustapha Ong

    As a political comrade of Anwar Ibrahim from the early 80s during my personal involvement in Malaysian politics through UMNO and Barisan Nasional, I am equally saddened by the fact that Anwar had involved himself in certain activities that had returned to haunt him in pursuit of his political career.

    It was also unfortunate that Anwar had to face trial for his own doings,including the infamous sodomy I case in the late 90s. The rest is history as I was also being implicated but never had a chance to appear in Court.

    In the ongoing sodomy II case purportedly as accused between Anwar and his personal aide Saiful Bukhari, the plaintiff is now confronting Anwar whether he will be a free man again, or to a face jail term of 20 years if found guilty.

    As usual Anwar is trying to implicate as many people as possible and dragged on the case for the last 3 years. Anwar has also subpoenaed prime minister Najib and his wife Rosmah. I have no issue with whom Anwar wishes to implicate other people in his ongoing sodomy II trial, but I opined that it’s not ethically right for Anwar and PKR to have accused UMNO and some senior government officials that they are behind the so called “political conspiracy” to end Anwar’s political career.

    There is no conspiracy by UMNO or BN to dispose Pakatan Rakyat in their attempt to capture Putrajaya and even to overthrow the democratically elected BN government currently in power.

    Malaysia under the leadership of prime minister Najib had embarked on a serious of Transformation Programs, i.e.Government Transformation Program; Economic Transformation Program and currently Political Transformation Program.These transformation programs are very crucial to ensure Malaysia’s future is being fully harnessed and protected through Najib’s vision to take the nation to a high level national income towards the year 2020 and beyond.

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