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Mahathir Is Walking On Thin Ice
First published: Bangkok Post Bangkok Post Feb 3, 1999; Keadilan Magazine April 18, 1999
Author’s note: The brutality unleashed on Anwar and the judicial absurdity were shocking and beyond understanding. He was brutally beatened by the police chief and denied bail on a flimsy sexual immorality, and minor corruption charges.
On a January morning 1999 I arrived at the packed court house to see my path to the press gallery blocked. The police officer said no more reporter allowed as the quota was fulfilled. Panic-strickened I pleaded and flashed my Time magazine card, ‘Please give me five minutes to go in and have a peep; I came all the way from Bangkok, at least I can write how the judge is like, the audience and how Anwar look.. or else I sure ‘kena buang kerja'(get sacked). He laughed, ‘OK no more than five minutes!’
I rushed in and squeezed into the press bench beside a lady reporter and explained my predicament. She smiled and kindheartedly made space for me to cramped beside her. Thank the police they did not bother me further.
More people may have visited the home of Mahathir on Malaysia’s recent religious open-house holiday, but it was at Anwar Ibrahim’s home where the more sympathetic gathered.
The scene at Kuala Lumpur’s Court of Appeal on Jan 16 was unusually relaxed – the court session was over and the accused, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, was allowed to remain in the court room chatting with his defence lawyers and family members for several hours, while scores of police guards looked on benignly. “This is most unusual. Normally the accused is whisked away immediately after the court session and send back to jail,” said an observer from Amnesty International who has been monitoring the trial since its inception last September. Even the Bangkok Post was able to talk to Mr Anwar. “There seems to be a change. The police seem more lenient towards Anwar,” said the observer.
However, like most things in contemporary Kuala Lumpur, it is deceptive. The genial scene at the courtroom belies the brutality and conspiracy unleashed by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to destroy his rival and former protege.
Minutes earlier the judge had turned down Mr Anwar’s appeal against a high court decision not to grant bail. Among the reasons given was the presence of Mr Anwar’s supporters shouting slogans to greet him each time he passes in and out of court. “What legal argument is that? It is shocking to hear. If you are a famous singer or public figure, you can’t get bail and justice because there are crowds wherever you go,” said Mr Anwar. “I was prepared for this… What can I say? The defence had done a good job in refuting all the accusations (of sexual misconduct). “By deciding that the Court of Appeal has no jurisdiction over an appeal for bail, I have no recourse against an erroneous decision by the High Court. And by suggesting that the presence of my supporters outside the court is additional grounds for refusing bail, the Court of Appeal has virtually killed all my chances of seeking a fresh application for bail before the High Court judge.”
Hopes of Mr Anwar spending Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Islam’s holiest holiday on Jan 18, back home with his family were squashed. It’s a time of family reunion and traditionally for leaders to open their homes to the public.
Lines of well-wishers came since morning, forming long lines to shake the hand of Mr Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah, at the family home in Damansara, Kuala Lumpur’s posh suburb. By evening when the last guest had left after partaking of the food laid out on the lawn, the still beaming and smiling Mrs Wan Azizah told the Bangkok Post: “There were 17,600 visitors. When we had the open house at the World Trade Centre last year the figure was only 14,000. I am really touched by their support.”
Minutes earlier as the well-wishers were slowly drifting home, a burly Chinese man came forward to wish her well and press a card into her hand. She looked at it and smiled: “Oh, it’s a free entry card to an amusement park, but my children should not be going to enjoy themselves. There is so much to do while their father is detained. He means well.”
A Chinese couple walk up, shake her hand and present her with what looks like a food parcel. “Please give this to Anwar when you visit Sungei Buloh (prison) tomorrow,” said the man. Mrs Wan Azizah turned around and smiled. “My husband is not around but the warmth is still there,” she said softly. “Though I feel slightly depressed not having Anwar by my side, the warmth and support is overwhelming and this has strengthened my courage to face the challenge of the future. Even though Anwar is not beside me during Hari Raya, I have the comfort of having my children beside me. “For this festival I did not buy any clothes for my children but friends bought for them. It’s very sad for the children but I try to explain to them.”
After being married for 19 years, this is the first Hari Raya without her husband. In previous years she would go back to Penang with her husband and children and visit her relatives and friends, particularly her mother-in-law, she said. “In previous years when Anwar was the deputy prime minister, we would visit PM Mahathir in the morning on Hari Raya day. Then proceed to the World Trade Centre for the open house. In the evening Mahathir and his wife together with his children would come over to our house for dinner. The children would eat separately. This was the routine all the years since he was first deputy PM.”
Among the well-wishers was Shamsidar Taharin, the wife of Mr Anwar’s private secretary with whom Mr Anwar is accused of having sex. She came with her husband and children, and they were warmly greeted and mobbed by the crowd. She is a good friend of Mr Anwar’s wife. They are like sisters, said a family member.
What is most noticeable about the well-wishers thronging into Mr Anwar’s house is the number of Chinese supporters, many coming with their children. “This is a good sign. Twenty percent of the visitors are Chinese,” said Philip Tan, a bookseller. “In the beginning the Chinese were frightened by the demonstrations. Now after 45 days of the trial, the picture has become clear. Anwar has been framed and Mahathir is the brutal and evil one.” “Earlier, the Chinese didn’t come out because they don’t want to create trouble. They were scared by the Indonesian riots. Now they know the government must change. They know that only when Mahathir is removed can the economy improve.
“Not only ordinary people but a lot of businessmen say that if Mahathir steps down, things will go up. If the election is fair, the Barisan National led by Umno (Dr Mahathir’s United Malays National Organisation) will lose. So they are using the May 13 racial riots as a threat to the Chinese voters. They will lose Sabah to the opposition for sure. So there is a likelihood the general election will be held at the same time as the Sabah election.”
Mr Tan said that like other businesses, his sales figures are down 20 to 30 percent. Henry Ong, a tour operator, said: “I do not believe the economy is recovering. If it is, the tourism industry should be enjoying a boom like in Thailand because of the cheap ringgit. Instead we are facing a disaster. The hoteliers have predicted that for the next six months, hotel occupancy will hover at around 20 to 30 percent.” “It is bleak, it is more gloom than boom for us. I come to support Anwar because of the great injustice. I believe Mahathir must go in order for the economy to recover. An accountant who asked not to be named added: “Justice, that is why I came. Even the layman knows that there is great injustice being shown to Anwar. As an educated professional, I feel even more outraged. That’s why I came here.”
One of six Chinese university students said: “We came to Anwar’s house because we have not been here before, and this is a chance for us to come and have a look. We cannot comment and tell you why we came because of the university act. We will be expelled. Just say we are neutral.”
Sonia Randhawa, whose father was detained and tortured under the Internal Security Act for 40 hours because he is a close friend of Mr Anwar, said: “I am not an Anwar supporter. I come here because I am disgusted by the way they treat him. I am disgusted by the lack of justice.”
The open house at Dr Mahathir’s sprawling chateau-like residence, Sri Perdana, was in total contrast. Chinese and Indians made up the majority of the huge crowd estimated at 40,000. If numbers in the open house contest were a factor, Dr Mahathir won hands down. “This is the first time in my seven years here that the gate has been thrown wide open to allow a free flow of visitors,” said a security guard with the Special Action Force. “In previous years, we allowed only batches of 300 to come in at a time.”
While the crowd at Mr Anwar’s house was made up of committed supporters and educated professionals, Dr Mahathir’s crowd were mostly from the working class who came more out of curiosity than for political reasons. “This is the first and last time I will come here. He will soon be gone,” laughed Pari Davi after queuing for an hour before she managed to shake Dr Mahathir’s hand. “He looks gaunt and tired,” she said. “I have nothing to do and this is my last chance to see him and look around the place,” said Rosli bin
Abdul Rahman. Madam Wong came with his son and daughter and saw the crowd was too big. After looking around the sprawling compound, he went home disappointed. “We came because my 12-year-old daughter wanted to come and see him,” he said. “And this is Hari Raya. My daughter has seen his pictures every day and wanted to see him in person.
This is an expression of support for the government,” proclaimed Dr Mahathir. “The number of visitors is extraordinary. I expected a smaller crowd as some people might get the impression that there will be riots.” Like all Dr Mahathir’s claims and strategies, what appears on the surface is deceiving.
An Umno division leader who is a famous lawyer and well connected in the party said: “Anwar is getting more and more sympathy every day and the people are getting more and more angry with Mahathir as the court case proceeds and various charges and evidence are proven to be false.
Mahathir is like a drowning man clinging to the last straw to stay afloat,” he said. “Anwar’s trial will not damage him even if he is jailed. He has a future. Politically he is still there.” “You can’t get rid of him because some ministers say so. The ordinary people do not see the charges as a serious matter because the charges (which were amended last week) are abuse of power to cover up something that is false. The tragedy is Unmo as a pragmatic and liberal party for the Malays will be discredited. More and more Malays will join PAS (Islamic Party) because they have no choice.
And PAS is an ideology- (religious-) based party which is not suitable to rule over the country. Look at the BJP in India or what would happen if a religious party took over Israel.”
“Sebagai rakyat yang patriotik, adalah menjadi tanggungjawab kita untuk membawa negara kita keluar dari kemelut sekarang. Maruah negara perlu dikembalikan. Arang yang terconteng di muka bangsa Malaysia perlu dibersihkan. Nama Malaysia perlu diharumkan kembali, iaitu negara yang mempunyai rakyat yang berani berjuang menegakkan kebenaran dan keadilan.” Datuk Seri Anwar
“Political parties and non-government organisations must work together and set aside their differences in order to free Malaysia from continuing stranglehold of crisis and oppression….Our party is prepared to sacrifice its own interests in order to achieve the larger goal of forging a credible alternative to the Barisan Nasional (National Front),” Dr. Wan Azizah.
First published: Bangkok Post [editorial page] March 3, 1999; picked up by Belfast Islamic Centre website
Author’s note: Two days before Anwar took the witness stand on Feb 8, 1999 I got a call from Time magazine chief: “Take the first flight (business class) from Bangkok to KL. Stay in any hotel you fancy and send us the bill.”
This article was requested by Bangkok Post editor, written after my Time magazine assignment. Right after professor Khoo called the Post and complained that I had put him in danger. My old classmate, air force Col Teh Benley, did the same when he met me even though his name was not mentioned. Such were their fear. I felt bad but confident I did not betray them because professor Khoo had left KL and was teaching in Singapore university as I was told by his son at the time of writing.
A year later I bump into Khoo during a conference in Penang. My fear of getting a trashing from him proved unfounded as he came forward and shook my hand. “Hey you know, after your article Mahathir wrote to me,” he said proudly. I was puzzled, “What did he say?” Khoo said, “The PM wrote: ‘Thank you for comparing me to Hitler’.”
“What does he mean?” I asked. “Oh, he wants to reassure me not to worry and he is proud of being compared to Hitler.” Happily I told him he should frame the letter. The moral: All is well that ends well.
After months of hearing lurid tales of sodomy, illicit sex and political intrigues, the stuff that rival a Hollywood blockbuster, the trial of Anwar Ibrahim has yet to end. “The case is totally surreal,” commented Marie Claire, a Dutch journalist. “It reveals the true face of Mahathir, yet at the same time I wonder if all the allegations are unfounded. There must be something that is not fabricated.”
When Anwar was arrested in September 20 last year, and charged with 10 counts of sexual abuse and corruption, many people would agree with Claire including this reporter. Five of the charges are related to sexual acts, the details of which have been lubricously related in local newspapers. The other five accuse Anwar of corrupt practice-for allegedly instructing the police to pressure two people who had written to Mahathir accusing Anwar of sexual misdeeds, to retract their statements.
Initially, I agreed with Rajan Moses, Reuter Bureau Chief that surely Mahathir has concrete proof like a videotape of Anwar’s sexual exploits, which he will produce in court to nail him. After 55 days of hearing, Mahathir not only failed to prove any of the charges but all those who were convicted or confessed to have been sodomised by Anwar had recanted or been exposed to be unreliable.
Dr Munawar Ahmad Anees, 51, speech writer of Anwar, convicted and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for being sodomised by Anwar had given an affidavit in the presence Malaysia’s Commissioner of Oaths, on Nov 7, 1998. He revealed how he was arrested, tortured by the special branch. “They degraded me and broke down my will and resistance, they threatened me and my family; they frightened me; they brainwashed me to the extent that I ended up in court on September 19, 1998 a shivering shell of a man willing to do anything to stop the destruction of my being.” he said.
“I state categorically that the details of the alleged homosexual relationship contained in my statement made to the magistrate and those given to the court by the prosecutor on September 19, 1998 were untrue and were fabricated by the police.”
Sukma Darmawan, Anwar’s adopted brother, who was jointly convicted with Munawar and sentenced to six months in jail, had his anus examined by a doctor who testified in court that medically Sukma had not been sodomised because there were no torn tissue.
Azizan Abu Bakar, (driver of Anwar’s wife) who started the poison pen letter in 1997 accusing Anwar of making him his sex slave, first testified in court denying being sodomised by Anwar and later said he was. Anwar’s lawyers had hoped the judge, Augustine Paul, would impeach or disqualify his testimony. The defence argued that Azizan had contradicted himself on the witness stand and that his testimony was therefore invalid. The judge disagreed and ruled in favour of the prosecution.
Mior Abdul Razak, fashion designer, the last sodomy victim whose case has yet to be heard, submitted a similar affidavit on Feb 8 detailing how he was arrested and treated by the Special Branch. “Here I wish to declare that my statement in writing, video recording which was made by the police, written statement given to the magistrate and the lawyer Syed Hilmi, regarding sodomy with Anwar are all cooked up by the police. They were given because of pressure, threat of torture, and through cigarettes and drinks given to me which I suspect were drugged.”
“I totally deny ever being sodomised by Anwar,” Mior recanted in the affidavit. Last week Mior sued the government seeking $60,000 for special damages as well as an unspecified amount for other damages.
“In any democratic country the judge will throw out the case. The prosecution has to prove beyond all doubts that the accusation is true,” said a lawyer (Chew Seng Kok) of Zaid Ibrahim Law Firm.
Instead the sexual charges were dropped and amended with the consent of the judge to four counts of abuse of power to cover up allegations of sodomy and illicit sex. In this way the prosecution do not have to prove Anwar’s alleged sexual crimes which they had revealed in lurid details in court. The prosecution had prevented the defence the chance to call their star witness, Shamshidar, wife of Anwar’s private secretary, after showing the court a matress allegedly stained with her virginal fluid and Anwar’s semen, as a lewd exhibit to prove that Anwar had illicit sex with her.
Shamsidar is a close friend of Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah. “If she had the chance to testify, she would have exposed the lies of the prosecution and made a mockery of the whole court proceeding,” said a defence lawyer.
“You can’t amend the charges midway like that,” said Mr Chew (Seng Kok, Zaid Ibrahim Law Firm), a lawyer in Kuala Lumpur. “The most absurd is how someone could be accused of covering up something that is not true.”
“After smearing Anwar with details of lewd sexual and other misconduct, they prevented him from defending himself,”said Rahim Karim.”This is really dirty and unfair.”
Meanwhile the world is treated to vintage Mahathir logic.”It is fair and open,” the Prime Minister said, “The defendant had nine lawyers defending him. The trial is open; it has been dragging on for days and days and there have been people observing the trial all over the world. There is nothing closed about it.”
“Yes, the charges were amended but there were reasons to amend them,” Mahathir said.
How long the court circus is going to drag on is anybody’s guess. On February 8, Anwar took the witness stand for the first time after the prosecution wrapped up and amended the charges. To the surprise of many, the Attorney General, Moktar Abdullah, announced with the consent of the court that he is taking over the prosecution. The defence protested unsuccessfully. “It is not proper as the AG is involved in the case and he is one of our potential witnesses,” said defence counsel Raja Aziz Addruse.
The judge also ruled that all political conspiracy is irrelevant. “Evidence maybe adduced to show there is conspiracy by police to change their stand and no further. Evidence of political conspiracy if any, is irrelevant,” the judge said. Further on the judge issued another order that all evidence on corruption and wrongdoing revealed by Anwar in court be embargoed to the press.
“It is very obvious the judge is bias and he is directed by the attorney general who is his boss. It is evident to us lawyers in Malaysia that Anwar is going to be convicted and the only thing left for him is to do as muchdamage as possible by exposing all the wrongdoing and corruption in the government, and he is doing just that,” said the lawyer Chew of Zaid Ibrahim Law Firm.
Anwar told the court that it was Mahathir who first showed him the poison pen letter in August 1997 accusing him of sodomy and adultery. “He told me to read it and then destroy and gave me a lecture on how to deal with it by following his example, that is just ignoring it. He said he had received several such letters including one accusing him of having a Chinese mistress in Singapore,” Anwar testified.
Later the police chief together with the AG told him that several ministers and Aziz Shamsuddin, the PM’s political secretary were behind the conspiracy, Anwar told the court. However, things began to change in 1998 when economic problems started. There was a clash of views between him and the PM on how to tackle the economic problems. Anwar went on to describe how on Sept 2, 1998, Mahathir gave him an ultimatum to resign or else be charged with a series of crimes ranging from corruption, sexual misconduct to treason, Anwar said . The judge, however, ruled all these as irrelevant.
Outraged and disgusted, Saudi Arabia, Islamic brother and staunch supporter of Malaysia, reacted strongly by denying Malaysians work visas. A retired Malaysian air force colonel (Teh Benley) recently became the first victim when he was denied a visa while his German colleagues in a security firm were welcomed. “When are the rest going to follow?,” asked a diplomat in Kuala Lumpur.
Time is not on his side. If justice and truth do not prevail, at least the economy will. The mood in Malaysia is changing fast as the trial drags on, the civil servants are all against Mahathir now, said the lawyer.
Malaysians are reading all the details of government corruption and wrongdoing from the Internet. “Ironically the Internet which he promotes, has become Mahathir’s biggest enemy,” said Chandra Muzzafar, university professor.
“Which ever way the verdict goes, Mahathir is in trouble,” said an UMNO divison leader. If Anwar is jailed, there will be worldwide reaction and internally Anwar will get more sympathy, and will bounce back stronger. If he is freed, will Mahathir have any face left? He asked.
According to confidential sources, Mahathir has finally admitted he has bungled Anwar’s case.
Malaysia has woken up to the shock that Anwar is a victim of one of the most vicious conspiracies of modern times. “The only person I can compare Mahathir to is Hitler,” said Khao Kay Kim professor of history, University of Malaya in an interview six months ago. It was a bit unfair, I thought then, since he has not committed genocide. In terms of clinging on to power and destroying rivals, I am beginning to believe the learned professor.