Latest in Munawar Anees

WASHINGTON, April 4 (AFP) - Munawar Anees is again spending most of every day at his computer, but little else in his daily routine reflects the life he left behind in Malaysia. That life ended on September 14, 1998, when Malaysian authorities arrested the Pakistani-born scientist on charges of sodomy with his longtime friend, ousted deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Anees maintains that police tortured him for days to extract a false confession, and that he, his friends and family suffered intolerable harassment by the Malaysian government.

At the lowest point, Anees said, he suffered a heart attack as a result of the mental and physical stress, even as authorities refused to disclose his condition and whereabouts to his Algerian-born wife.

"They told plain lies to her," he said, with a flash of anger he displayed only once during a nearly two-hour interview here.

After officials disrupted his wife's e-mail and bank accounts, he said, she left the country with their son and daughter to join her own family in Paris, where they will remain until school ends in June.

Anees, who used to write speeches for Anwar, ultimately spent four months in a hospital, chained to his bed and guarded by police, before he was freed on January 18. He left Malaysia on January 21 to visit his mother in Pakistan before joining his family in Paris. On March 7, Anees flew to the United States, where he spent half his time as a legal permanent resident over the last two decades. Now, staying with longtime friend Safir Rammah in a leafy Washington suburb, he is trying to rebuild his life. "I have a lot of anger, but I try to control it," Anees said, pausing between cigarettes to take occasional, sparing bites of his lunch.

Apart from revising a book project, he said, he's looking for work with a Washington think-tank and keeping in constant touch by phone and e-mail with his family in Paris and supporters around the world. Often, Rammah said, Anees carries on phone conversations late into the night -- daytime in Asia -- and sleeps from dawn to midday before rising and starting the whole cycle again. "He's much better now than when he first arrived," Rammah said.

Anees continues to take medications to regulate his heartbeat, lower his blood pressure, and control his anxiety. He remains deeply grateful for the outpouring of concern that followed his arrest: To the Pakistani ambassador who visited him at the hospital, the French ambassador who looked after his wife and children, to Amnesty International and an Internet coalition calling itself "Friends of Dr. Anees" that lobbied tirelessly for his release. "It was so much more than I expected," Anees said.

London-based Amnesty determined Anees and Anwar were "clearly" political prisoners and launched an urgent campaign to press for their release, said T. Kumar, Amnesty's Asia advocacy director here. For its part, the United States called only for a fair trial, though its 1998 human rights report, issued in February, contained a scathing assessment of police abuses and civil rights in Malaysia. Looking ahead, Anees said he will devote himself to the cause of human rights -- "the notion was abstract to me before," he said --  and remain involved in Malaysian politics.

For the Southeast Asian country that has been his home for half of every year since 1990, he said, he foresees sweeping reforms ahead: "There's a sort of irreversible change under way in Malaysia, and any politician ignores it at his own peril."

"People aren't fools," Anees said. "They can distinguish between falsehood and truth, and Anwar has shown tremendous courage." Mahathir "has created a tremendous culture of fear,"he said, attributing Anwar's own sacking to a personality clash with his former mentor.

"Many of my friends abandoned me in those first hours after my arrest," he added, fearing for their safety. Could he imagine returning to Malaysia? "Yes," he replied quickly, "after Mahathir."

Anwar's own marathon trial on corruption charges -- the longest in Malaysian legal history -- ended Thursday with the judge postponing his verdict from April 6 to April 14. Anwar denies the allegations but expects he will be convicted. He and his supporters regard the entire affair as a political vendetta.

The case has drawn intense international scrutiny, notably after Anwar, once a reform-minded rising star, made his initial court appearance having been badly beaten.