Last edited: December 17, 2004

Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim Set Free

Radio Singapore International, September 2, 2004

Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim has won his final appeal against a conviction for sodomy in Malaysia’s highest court.

Anwar who has been in jail for nearly 6 years was set to walk free today.

The Federal Court had ruled that the High Court which convicted Anwar, misdirected itself.

The head judge of a 3-judge bench said that Anwar should have been acquitted and therefore allowed the sentence and conviction to be set aside.

Former opposition politician Chandra Muzafa says the ruling asserts the Malaysian legal process.

“I’m happy that the highest court in the land has overturned the decisions made by the lower courts. It’s a victory of justice. My own reading of Anwar’s release is this – that the major institutions of governance in the country are slowly beginning to operate the way they should”

So what led to the court to approve the appeal?

Former Malaysian Member of Parliament, Mr James Wong says that the Federal Court found the evidence for the charges inconsistent.

“Of course this is a court decision based on legal reasoning. One of the witnesses, the key witnesses, changed his testimony. Material evidence followed by the dates of the alleged sodomy – they changed it 3 times. Because of that inconsistency, the benefit of the doubt was given to Anwar”

And how did the judges of the Federal Court come to that conclusion?

Valarie Tan put that question to Karim Raslan, a lawyer and partner with Raslan Loong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

KR: Well I think the judges based their decisions on the law. It was a straightforward legal decision by the court. I think the point here basically is that the courts made its decisions, they chose to allow the appeal. And it shows that there’s no executive interference with the legislation here in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi has said that the final decision on Anwar will be left to the courts. What implications would Anwar’s release have on the administration of Abdullah Badawi?

KR: Well I think its interesting. I think it reflects the confidence of the administration and that Abdullah Badawi and the teams chose not to get involved in the decision.

Does Anwar’s release imply anything for the UMNO Assembly which is slated to take place on Sept 22?

KR: Oh certainly. It complicates the political landscape without a doubt. Politics in Malaysia and the political space is very robust and resilient. It can certainly cope with the addition of another player.

Do you think his release will signal a revival for Keadilan since the party did badly in the last election?

KR: I wonder frankly. I think the key forces, the 2 main parties in Malaysia will remain, certainly in the Malay-Muslim community – PAS and UMNO. And after Anwar has kind of spent time with his family, looked to his health, I’m sure he’ll consider reentering politics. You must remember the Malaysian political system like Singapore’s, is the Parliamentary Westminister System. As such, a charismatic individual like Anwar will have to learn to work with the political parties. And they themselves will have to work and want him too.

Would he be able to win back the Malay-Muslim majority?

KR: Well I don’t know. The key challenge is or will be for the future for him is how he can translate sympathy, because there’s enormous sympathy for him, into real political power. And that will require him to work with either UMNO or PAS.

Karim Raslan, a lawyer and partner with Raslan Loong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, speaking to Valarie Tan.

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