Verdict follows script of Mahathir agenda
The Nation (Bangkok)
April 19, 1999

EDITORIAL: Verdict follows script of Mahathir agenda

For a trial so closely watched around the world, the verdict was no big surprise. On Wednesday, former Malaysia's prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim was slapped with a six-year jail sentence. And to add insult to injury, Judge Augustine Paul ordered the prison term to begin on the day of conviction, not the day Anwar was arrested some seven months ago -- a rather unusual instruction given that he had earlier denied bail for the accused.

The sentence would leave Anwar in the cold for perhaps up to 15 years. This is because upon release in 2005, he would be barred from standing for public office for a further five years. Thus, should Anwar serve his sentence in full, he would be ineligible to run in the next three elections -- 2000, 2005 and 2010. In such a worst-case scenario, Anwar could only re-enter the political ring in 2015 at the age of 66.

Given this, it would be very difficult, though not impossible, for Anwar to make a political comeback. But that was exactly what Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had intended, when Paul, a relatively new face in the High Court, was plucked from near obscurity to hear the case. If that itself is not controversial enough -- Paul was selected over a well-respected veteran judge who was conveniently transferred out -- the upstart judge saw to it that he made history with a string of controversial decisions.

No doubt, his most controversial ruling was accepting the prosecution's request to amend the charges against Anwar. The amendments allowed the prosecutors to argue that Anwar directed two senior police officers to obtain a ''written statement'' from two persons denying allegations of sodomy and sexual misconduct, instead of a ''written confession''. This was done allegedly to save the accused from ''embarrassment''.

As a result, Paul ruled that the truth or falsity of the allegations were not at issue in the trial. Subsequently, the judge, without so much as an application from the prosecutors, expunged all evidence by their witnesses relating to the sexual allegations against Anwar. In so doing, Paul effectively pulled the rug from under Anwar's feet. After all, central to his defence was that the sexual allegations were false, and that there could not have been corrupt practice on his part to cover up misconduct since it never took place.

On Feb 2, The Nation had forebodingly warned in an editorial ''Anwar into battle with hands tied'' to ''expect the words 'not relevant' to ring out in court time and again''. That was exactly what took place. Paul had originally permitted Anwar's defence based on a ''political conspiracy'', but this was later ruled ''irrelevant''. Anwar's black eye and his beating while in police custody was also deemed irrelevant. A procession of defence witnesses, too, were considered irrelevant.

Paul has insisted that justice not only be done, but must be seen to be done. Yet, seven months after Anwar was beaten black and blue, and two months after former police chief Abdul Rahim Noor confessed to having assaulted him, no action has been taken. It was only last week -- after months of sloppy cover-up -- that a royal commission recommended Abdul Rahim be indicted with a maximum three years in prison.

The contrast between the two -- Anwar and Abdul Rahim -- cannot be more stark: three years for someone who nearly killed a man, and six years for someone who asked the police to get retractions for accusations that are possibly untrue. And that, assuming Abdul Rahim is charged soon. This appears to be justice Malaysia-style -- one law for Mahathir and his cronies, another for his political enemies.

Mahathir is betting that by putting Anwar away, this would help douse the anger over the affair. He couldn't be more wrong.

Some 1,000 protesters turned up outside the courtroom on the day Anwar was sentenced. Among them was Tian Chua, a key leader from the newly minted National Justice Party. Tian gallantly sat in front of a police truck which was spraying eye-burning water on the protesters. For his act of peaceful civil disobedience, Tian was bludgeoned on the head by a baton, and repeatedly punched and kicked. Later, the police charged a bruised and bleeding Tian for, yes, attempting to ''commit suicide''.

Perhaps the officers in blue are taking a leaf from Mahathir's book on "self-inflicted injuries". Indeed, there is no end to the travesty of justice in Malaysia.

The Nation