Last edited: November 06, 2004

Anwar Sodomy Testimony Halted

PlanetOut, June 22, 2000

SUMMARY: Although the appeal on the Prime Minister’s subpoena is still pending, the judge wouldn’t wait to close Maylasian reformer’s controversial case.

The long-running sodomy trial of Malaysia’s former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is nearing its conclusion, as testimony ended June 21 at the judge’s order. The defense will submit its closing arguments in writing by July 1, the prosecution will respond two days later, and the defense’s final statement will be due July 6; no date has been set for a verdict. Conviction could mean up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Anwar, 52, a married father of six who once had a reputation not only as an observant Muslim but a rather ascetic man, continues to maintain that this and other charges against him were all fabricated as part of a high-level political plot. His wife, pediatrician and now opposition political leader Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail, told the Associated Press she believes the trial was abruptly terminated to get Anwar out of the public eye.

Anwar was dumped from his Cabinet posts and his leadership role in the ruling UMNO party early in September 1998 after several years of being the apparent successor to aging Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed. He was arrested soon after when his calls for reform of government corruption drew tens of thousands to rallies (in many cases violently dispersed by police) and sparked a new level of dissent that continued through the recent elections. He’s been imprisoned since September 20, 1998, a term which began with a dangerous beating at the hands of the man who was then Malaysia’s top law enforcement official. Anwar’s first trial on four charges of corruption — charges made for alleged attempts to cover up the alleged sexual misconduct — was the longest in Malaysia’s history until his current trial. It resulted in April 1999 in a six-year prison sentence for Anwar, as well as international protest at the conduct of the trial.

The current trial began June 21, 1999, with Anwar accused of having sex with his wife’s male former chauffeur, and there could well be still more charges brought against him. Before the trial even began, the prosecution twice changed the year in which the alleged sexual assault occurred. The trial has featured numerous delays, so that more than a year of calendar days has included only 108 actual days in court.

Anwar has so far been blocked in attempts to bring Mahathir himself to testify. A further appeal on the prime minister’s testimony is pending, but Judge Arifin Jaka refused to wait for its outcome, although he said that examination of witnesses could be reopened if Anwar prevails in the Federal Court. Had Mahathir complied with the subpoena, Anwar’s defense would have called three other witnesses as well.

One of the last of Anwar’s more than 30 defense witnesses was attorney Manjeet Singh Dhillon, who previously defended two of Anwar’s former associates, many of whom were arrested near the time of Anwar’s arrest. Manjeet testified on June 13 that in 1998 the lead prosecutor in both of Anwar’s trials, Abdul Gani Patail, had asked him to "create evidence" to frame Anwar, and dropped Mahathir’s name in the process. Gani himself was absent from the courtroom during this testimony.

Being tried alongside Anwar is his adopted brother Sukma Darmawan Saasmitaat Madja, accused of joining Anwar in sodomizing driver Azizan Abu Bakar. Along with the 20-year prison sentence, Sukma could also face whipping with a cane, a punishment which Agence France Presse says is waived for those who, like Anwar, are over 50 years old.

The Anwar saga is an epic one with a huge cast of remarkable characters and important connections with both Malaysian politics and international finance.

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