15 December 2011

As Trial Nears End, Anwar Vows No Surrender...

Shortly after the prosecution filed its closing arguments Tuesday and declared that it had proven beyond reasonable doubt that Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, was guilty of sodomy, Mr. Anwar emerged from the Kuala Lumpur High Court to cries of “Reform!” from his supporters.

“I still hope that sanity and justice will prevail and the judge will have to decide based on the facts and the law,” said Mr. Anwar, who faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, said as he left the courtroom.

The trial, which has extended over nearly two years, is expected to end on Thursday with a reply from the defense. Mr. Anwar will then face an anxious wait for a verdict that could prevent him from running in elections widely expected to be held next year and realizing his long-held ambition to become prime minister.

Sodomy, even between consenting adults, remains a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia, and any prison sentence would bar Mr. Anwar, 64, from contesting elections for five years from the date of his release.

Some analysts, however, predict that a guilty verdict could enhance support for the political opposition and bolster its contention that the trial was politically motivated. The government has denied such assertions.

More than a decade has passed since Mr. Anwar, who served as deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998, was convicted of earlier charges of abuse of power and sodomy.

Released from prison in 2004 after the Federal Court overturned the sodomy conviction, Mr. Anwar now leads an opposition alliance that holds more parliamentary seats than ever after the governing coalition, which has dominated Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority in the 2008 elections.

Mr. Anwar has not backed down from his assertion that he is the victim of a conspiracy and the government his persecutor. And he does not believe that the verdict in the new trial, in which he is charged with forcing a male aide to have sex, will be any different from the first.

A guilty verdict, he says, is a “foregone conclusion.”

“Am I prepared?” he said Thursday in an interview at his party’s headquarters. “Yes, I don’t have a choice.”

But he added, “Whether I am in jail or convicted or otherwise, reform and change must take place.”

Several months after the 2008 elections, Mr. Anwar was charged with sodomizing his former political aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, in a Kuala Lumpur apartment. Mr. Anwar has described the allegation as a “blatant and vicious lie.”

In final submissions to the court on Tuesday, the prosecution disputed the defense’s claims that DNA evidence considered crucial in the trial could have been tainted. The prosecution said Mr. Anwar had failed to refute key elements of Mr. Saiful’s testimony when he delivered a statement from the dock. Because he did not give evidence under oath, Mr. Anwar was not subject to cross-examination.

Mr. Anwar’s lawyers, who have complained that the trial has not been conducted fairly, had sought to paint his accuser as a “consummate liar.”

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have criticized the trial.

Condemnation has also come from Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president who, with Paul D. Wolfowitz, the former U.S. deputy secretary of defense, wrote in the Wall Street Journal last year that the trial “threatens not just Mr. Anwar but all those in Malaysia who have struggled for a freer and more democratic nation.”

But for all his pessimism about his chances of acquittal, Mr. Anwar voices equal optimism about the opposition’s prospects in the next election: “Not if — when,” he said.

James Chin, a political scientist and director of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University Malaysia, said that a guilty verdict would lend credence to the opposition’s assertions that the trial was a government conspiracy. “If he gets a guilty verdict and a very harsh sentence, this will be a very good thing for the opposition,” Mr. Chin said.

Bridget Welsh, an associate professor at Singapore Management University who specializes in Malaysian politics, said a guilty verdict would support the view that the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak “is so insecure that it has to use the judiciary against the opposition leader.”

“This will bring international attention to the issue and within Malaysia consolidate Anwar’s base of support,” she said.

While the opposition has often been beset by claims of disunity in its ranks, Mr. Anwar said the parties had been working to come up with a “clear platform” on key policies ahead of the election.

“Our target is to win the elections,” Mr. Anwar said. “I’m very optimistic.”

He said the opposition must present a coherent, united voice and emphasize its commitment to democratic reforms, and communicate its message to the public — something Mr. Anwar complained was difficult because of the government dominance of television and newspapers.

Calls for greater protection of civil liberties have grown louder in Malaysia this year, and Mr. Najib has announced that he will undertake a series of legislative changes.

But his actions have failed to satisfy the Malaysian Bar Council and other rights advocates, with many criticizing the government’s new Peaceful Assembly Act. Although the act would eliminate the need to obtain a police permit for protests, it would ban street demonstrations and require protesters to notify the police in advance.

Mr. Anwar, who said he would allow street protests if elected, said Malaysia has the ingredients for its own “Arab spring” if changes are not made.

He said Malaysia was not comparable to Libya under Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s regime or Syria under President Bashar al-Assad. But, he said, “all the ingredients of a repressive regime, an authoritarian regime, are there.”

As Mr. Anwar awaits the verdict, he said he would be traveling around the country, meeting members of the public to garner support for the opposition.

He said that, if he is jailed, he believes the government “will just try and erase me as they did before in 1998, because they thought by just jailing me that Anwar’s role and future is erased for good.”

But he left no doubt that he would not go quietly if convicted. In a courtroom speech delivered during the trial, he vowed that the “truth will eventually prevail.”

“Come what come may,” he said, “I shall never surrender.” - LIZ GOOCH

source:the New York Times


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