Sex, Lies and Videotape in Malaysia
Three men known collectively as “Datuk T” pleaded guilty Friday in a Kuala Lumpur magistrate’s court to screening a videotape in March allegedly featuring Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim having sex with a Chinese prostitute earlier this year.
The three are former Malacca Chief Minister Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik, a stalwart of the United Malays National Organization, Shazryl Eskay Abdullah, formerly a close friend of and fundraiser for Anwar, and Shuib Lazim, former treasurer of the Malay supremacy NGO Perkasa, which is closely aligned with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. The three said they had made the video to demonstrate that Anwar wasn’t qualified to be prime minister.
The three are Datuks, a minor honorific originally designed to be the eqivalent of a British knighthood although in practice it is probably somewhere down the ranks in value, given the vast numbers of them in Malaysia. It is the lowest in the country’s list of titles bestowed on businessmen and others.* They entered the courtroom wearing broad smiles and waving to the crowd.
Anwar, his family, his political party Parti Keadilan Rakyat and the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat have continued to insist that a stunt double made the film, which was shown to reporters under mysterious circumstances at a prestigious hotel. They have been demanding that charges of distributing pornography be lodged against the three over the video, which has since pretty much gone viral across Malaysia.
That strategy may have backfired, since it allowed the three, who appeared in court Friday, to deliver what they said was an analysis by experts from Dartmouth College in the United States that the video was authentic. Thamby Chik’s lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah later told reporters that the experts said it was “99.99 percent certain” that the man in the video was Anwar.
“Results of the analysis by experts from Dartmouth College, Handover, New Hampshire in the US verified the authenticity of the video, that there was no tampering or any act of super-imposing and that it originated from a DVR camcorder taken from Datuk Shazryl,” deputy public prosecutor Kamalluddin Md Said was quoted as saying in local media.
Anwar’s allies insist that whether the video was or wasn’t tampered with, it wasn’t Anwar in the picture. In fact, the video so far appears to have done little damage to Anwar’s reputation. He has been ensnared for months in a long-running trial for allegedly having homosexual sex a then-23-year-old aide. He was imprisoned for six years on similar charges in a trial that is universally regarded as having been trumped up.
Catching politicians in sex videos has become de rigueur in Malaysia. In January 2008 Chua Soi Lek, then Malaysia’s health minister, was forced to resign after individuals thought to rivals in the Malaysian Chinese Association filmed him getting into bed with an unnamed woman. Chua recovered, however, and was later named to head the MCA, the second biggest party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
Then, in mid-June this year, VCDs started making the rounds purportedly depicting Mohamad Sabu, the newly elected deputy president of Parti Islam se-Malaysia, the formerly fundamentalist, rural-based Islamic party whose top leadership was taken over by professionals during their most recent party conclave. Mat Sabu, as he is known, is credited with transforming the party into a secular organization with the potential to challenge UMNO for ethnic Malay votes.
The videotape, under the title “Skandal Seks Mat Sabu,” on what PAS officials said was a forged PAS letterhead, reportedly showed the political leader caught with his pants down by Malaysia’s religious police. Opposition leaders trashed the report, saying Umno had degenerated into a distributor of blue films.
Abdul Rahim Thamby Chik himself was caught in an ugly scandal in 1994 when he was forced to resign as chief minister of Malacca after eing charged with statutory rape of a 15 year old girl. The girl’s grandmother reportedly turned him in. However, the charge was later withdrawn when the public prosecutor cited lack of evidence. Instead, the girl was given three years in “protective custody” and opposition leader Lim Guan Eng was jailed for publishing the details of the alleged rape.
The Datuk T trio, who pleaded guilty to openly screening pornographic material, were fined varying amounts. Shazryl, Anwar’s former fundraiser, was fined RM3,000 and given the choice of three months in jail. Shuib was fined RM1,500 and Thamby Chik was fined RM1,000.
Magistrate Aizatul Akmal Maharani told the court he had taken into consideration the public interest factor, saying that “Public interest must also be weighed together with the interest of the accused.”
*Corrected on June 25, 2011. We thank our reader for his comment.