Outcry Over Anwar Sodomy Verdict
August 11, 2000
SUMMARY: As a few demonstrators brave police threats to show their support for the
ousted reformer, world leaders raise questions about Malaysian justice.
In the wake of the August 8 sodomy conviction and nine-year sentence for
Malaysias former Prime-Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim, his supporters on have
held the first in a series of street demonstrations and a growing number of world leaders
have expressed concern. His attorneys filed a notice of appeal of both the sentence and
the conviction on August 11; they said that Anwar was "extremely unwilling" to
go ahead with the appeal because hes lost all confidence in the nations
Some 300 people joined the demonstration at the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur on
August 11 despite the presence of dozens of police prepared with riot gear and water
cannon. Their chants called for the resignation of Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed and
for reform of corruption and cronyism in his administration. After about thirty minutes,
about twenty police intervened to break up the demonstration.
A spokesperson for the National Justice Party (Keadilan) led by Anwars wife Dr.
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said the group is planning to tour the country educating the
populace about the administration they called "tyrannical" and holding rallies.
He denied that the "reformasi" movement had lost momentum, even though the
rallies of the last sixteen months have been only a fraction the size of earlier ones.
Police have made hundreds of arrests and used considerable force in breaking up
anti-Mahathir rallies. Under Malaysian law, even a handful of people may not legally
gather without a police permit, and police have repeatedly warned against any public
One of the first international responses came from Canadas Foreign Minister Lloyd
Axworthy, who announced August 9 that, "We have called in the Malaysian High
Commissioner today to register our consternation directly with governmental authorities
over Mr. Anwars trial and sentencing." Axworthy called Anwars trials
"the most glaring examples of the deterioration in Malaysias judicial system
over the past few years." Canadian Finance Minister Paul Martin added that, "Mr.
Anwar [Malaysias Minister of Finance for eight years] is a respected colleague and a
man of integrity, who in his capacity as finance minister showed strong dedication to
enhancing the financial well-being of the Malaysian people. The international community
notes with concern the irregularities of his trial, which reflect poorly on the
impartiality of Malaysias judicial system. An erosion of confidence in the rule of
law in Malaysia not only threatens democracy in that country but also raises questions
about the current governments respect for human rights and governance."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard issued his toughest criticism of Malaysia to date
on August 10, even though his foreign minister had been careful to say little about the
verdict because of the anticipated appeal of the case. Howard said, "There is enough
concern, given the long history of this, to cause me to worry that the judiciary there is
not as independent as used to be the case. It does seem to be part of a series of events
that represents some kind of political campaign against Anwar, and that is a matter of
very great concern." Howard began his criticism of Malaysia in 1998, saying Mahathir
used "executive authority of the government and the police" to defeat his
political opponents, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The European Unions French presidency issued a statement August 10 with the
support of Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia,
Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, and the Slovak Republic. It said,
"The European Union notes with deep concern the verdict announced on August 8, 2000
against Datuk Seri [an honorific] Anwar Ibrahim," saying that a number of aspects of
the trial raised "serious doubts" as to its fairness. The EU called for holding
the appeal in accordance with accepted international standards.
The U.S., the World Bank, New Zealand, and human rights and jurists groups have also
denounced the sodomy trial, as well as the earlier trial that sentenced Anwar to six years
imprisonment for abuse of power in allegedly covering up sexual misconduct. Abruptly fired
from the Cabinet of his aging mentor Mahathir in September 1998, Anwar was jailed soon
after and has been incarcerated ever since. He is generally kept in solitary confinement
and his family is only allowed to visit once each month; no exception was made for his
53rd birthday on August 10, although his lawyer came to persuade him to sign the appeal.
Anwar has maintained throughout that the charges against him are the fabrications of a
high-level political conspiracy reaching all the way to the Prime Minister himself.
Mahathir and his Cabinet have repeatedly defended the trial and punishment as just and
fair, shrugging off international concerns as meddling in their national affairs by biased
people who dont understand Malaysian culture. Thailand and the Philippines have both
abided by policies of refusing to comment on another Asian nations internal affairs,
even though the President of the Philippines has been a close friend of Anwars.
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