Last edited: October 03, 2004

Malaysia’s Anwar Says Won’t Be Muzzled

Reuters, September 15, 2004

By Barani Krishnan

KUALA LUMPUR—Malaysian dissident politician Anwar Ibrahim says he will not be silenced by a ban on holding political office, after failing to have his criminal record erased by the country’s highest court.

“I’ll continue with my agenda. It doesn’t make a difference to me,” the ex-deputy premier told Reuters from his hospital bed in Munich, Germany, where he was recovering from back surgery.

The Federal Court, which two weeks ago quashed a sodomy conviction against Anwar and freed him from almost six years in jail, denied on Wednesday to re-hear an appeal against his last remaining criminal conviction, for corruption.

The corruption count, which landed Anwar in jail in 1999 and sparked violent street protests, prevents him under Malaysian law from standing for party office or parliament until April 2008.

Anwar, who says he was framed after a fall-out with former leader Mahathir Mohamad, maintained throughout his imprisonment that he would fight for reforms when freed—a pledge he reiterated after his release a fortnight ago.

“I think the law on the political ban is quite clear,” he said in a phone interview.

“Under the law, you cannot hold political or public office, but you can be very active politically. You can give speeches, hold news conferences. You can even hop down to Singapore or Bangkok to give a press conference, if there’s a problem.”

A pardon from Malaysia’s king, given on the advice of government, is now the only way for him to beat the ban.

But Anwar said he wasn’t sure of pursuing that option. “I think I will have to see the grounds and what the implications are before I proceed on that.”

Before his jailing in 1999, Anwar was a lightning rod for discontented Malays, the ethnic grouping that dominates domestic politics. He also commanded a strong faction within the ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

UMNO’s leadership said on Tuesday it would not readmit him.

“To me, it’s no consequence because I’ve never given any indication of joining them,” he said. “But I’ve received a lot of calls from people in UMNO. Some even came to Munich to see me.”

Some of the high-profile visits and telephone calls came from Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia; Chris Patten, ex-governor of Hong Kong and Surin Pitsuwan, former foreign minister of Thailand.

“We spoke about my participation in an international role. Some have mooted the idea of a mediator for the Middle East cause,” he said. “But I don’t think I want to come up with any decision in the next few weeks. You need to assess the situation. The political landscape has changed.”

He said he was recovering well after the surgery and walking slowly now. “I’m hoping to jog soon.”

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