The Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled Tuesday, as expected, that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim must stand trial in January on charges that he had consensual sex with a male former aide in June 2008.
It is the second time the 62-yar-old Anwar has faced sexual perversion charges in the last decade. The case is as much a trial of the Malaysian judicial system as it is of the political leader.
Anwar was jailed for six years in 1999 on charges of sodomizing his driver in a trial that was widely condemned as trumped up. He was repeatedly beaten in prison and showed up for trial with a black eye and bruises on his arms and today continues to suffer from back problems from the beatings.
Similar objections of falsification of evidence have been raised to the current affair by human rights organizations, who say the trial is a bid to once again derail Anwar’s political career. Sodomy is a crime punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment and caning in Malaysia. Anwar led the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition to unprecedented political gains in March 2008 elections that broke the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition’s 50-year two thirds majority in the Malaysian parliament.
Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the editor of the popular internet political blog Malaysia Today, has repeatedly tied the former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who was deputy prime minister when the charges were filed and who was named prime minister in April. He and other critics have also repeatedly tied Najib to the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a Mongolian translator who was murdered in October of 2006.
Anwar has been attempting to delay the current trial or have it dismissed for months. He and his lawyers allege they have not been given access to evidence held by the prosecution that they claim would prove he is not guilty of the crime. He has repeatedly accused the Attorney General’s office of bringing the charges against him as part of a political conspiracy
“We’re quite in a quagmire,” Sankara Nair, Anwar’s lawyer, told reporters. “How can we craft our defense unless we have all our data?”
“I didn’t expect anything different,” Anwar told reporters after the judge’s verdict. “The manner in which the case is proceeding seems worrying. I think we are in for a tough battle but we have compelling arguments. We have facts.”
Both government and private doctors filed reports saying they had found no evidence of forced penetration of Moh, who was 23 at the time of the alleged offense. The prosecution, however, allege that they have additional evidence.
In particular, Dr Mohamad Osman examined Saiful at a hospital in Kuala Lumpur on June 28, 2008 after he had gone there to to complain about pain he said he was suffering in his anus. He allegedly told hospital personnel he had been assaulted by a “very important person.” Osman filed a report saying he found no evidence of penetration or scarring that would have occurred from forcible entry. The physician suggested that the youth obtain another diagnosis at a government hospital, where doctors also refused to confirm a diagnosis of sodomy. Nonetheless, Saiful filed the assault report at a nearby police kiosk four hours later.
After Osman made the report indicating no sexual assault had taken place, police picked up the doctor and detained him to attempt to persuade him to change his diagnosis, according to Malaysia Today. In a telephone interview with Asia Sentinel, Deputy Inspector General of Police Ismail Omar confirmed that Dr Mohamad had been questioned, but said he had never been detained.
There have been other inconsistencies. The prosecution ultimately charged the opposition leader with consensual sex rather than forcible sodomy, raising the question why Saiful hadn’t been charged as well.
Anwar, formerly the deputy prime minister and finance minister, broke with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad amid the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis and ultimately led tens of thousands of people in opposition to government policies before being arrested and charged with corruption and perversion.
In the 1999 case, the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians in Geneva, Switzerland, charged that “There are reportedly serious inconsistencies in the different testimonies given by the key witnesses. One of the senior police officers whom Mr. Ibrahim allegedly directed to have statements withdrawn, when called by the prosecution, produced a report he had written to Prime Minister Mahathir in 1997, stating that the sexual allegations were groundless and “deliberately created” as part of a conspiracy. In early January 1999, the government chemist who had conducted DNA tests of stains on a mattress conceded that the stains could have been planted by police and that the tests could not warrant a conviction, The senior lawyer from the Attorney General’s Chambers added that it had more such forensic and oral evidence to support the sodomy charge.”