Monday, February 8, 2010

Not another Augustine: Anwar acts to pre-empt bias

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Wong Choon Mei   

of Harakah daily

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 8: In a move to pre-empt the kangaroo court and injustice he suffered in 1998, Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has sought to disqualify the presiding judge in his current sodomy trial on the grounds of gross bias.

“We are afraid that the judge may be subjected to political pressure and may continue to make adverse decisions towards Anwar to help Umno win. We don’t want another Augustine Paul,” one of his lawyers told Harakahdaily.

He was referring to the late Federal Court judge Augustine Paul, who had overseen much of Anwar’s first sodomy trial in 1998.

Augustine's rulings were widely slammed for being skewed, making him an object of much ridicule both among the Malaysian public and his own legal fraternity.

Refusal to cite Utusan for contempt

On Monday, which was to have been Day 4 of the sodomy case brought against him by the Umno-BN government, Anwar applied to disqualify High Court judge Mohd Zabidin Mohd Diah for partisanship.

In particularly, he pointed to Mohd Zabidin's refusal to cite Umno newspaper Utusan for contempt over its malicious coverage of the trial.

“As a result of the rulings made by the learned trial judge, there has been a departure from the standard of even handed justice upon the applications made by my counsel with an independent mind,” Anwar said.

“With respect, a fair-minded and informed bystander would, under the position obtaining, entertain a fear of real danger of bias on the part of the learned trial judge.”

The sodomy trial will now continue on Tuesday at 9.30am and the court will also hear the details of his application to disqualify Mohd Zabidin.

Flashbacks from the past

Umno-owned Utusan had spearheaded the government's smear campaign against Anwar by publishing both photos and text that blatantly insinuated the latter had repeatedly sodomised his complainant Saiful Bukhari Azhari.

On February 4, the Malay-language daily front-paged an article with the heading “Not willing to be sodomised again”. On page 3 of the same edition, it wrote “Resigned from my job because I did not want to be sodomised again”.

The paper also carried photos of a bed in the master bedroom of a condominium, where the alleged offence took place, with a caption showing Saiful as telling the judge he had been sodomised on that bed.

But despite objections from Anwar's lawyers, Mohd Zabidin sided with Utusan, saying the newspaper had done nothing wrong. His comments raised eyebrows amongst the legal fraternity and the dozens of observers sent by various embassies to follow the trial.

“Political tricks and intentional damage to my character which is continually being done by Umno-owned newspapers are being allowed. The statements published are blatantly inaccurate, yet the judge did not take any action,” Anwar chided.

Torrent of international condemnation

The 62-year leader is facing sodomy charges that have been internationally condemned as being rigged and politically motivated to destroy his career.

A torrent of pleas to Prime Minister Najib Razak and his Umno party for fair play and to respect human rights have poured in from civil society and international watchdog bodies, including the foreign press.
“For the second time, the Malaysian legal system is being manipulated by supporters of the incumbent government to drive Malaysia’s best-known leader, Anwar Ibrahim, out of national politics," Michael Danby, who chairs the Australia’s foreign affairs subcommittee, told his Parliament in Canberra last week.
“For the second time, documents are being forged, witnesses are being coerced, and evidence is being fabricated. This trial, like the first trial, is a disgrace to Malaysia, a country that aspires to democratic norms.”
In 1998, Malaysia's then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad had forced through sodomy charges against Anwar that were so manifestly fabricated that it outraged the citizenry and split Umno in two.

But the courts still threw Anwar into jail. However a year after Mahathir retired in 2003, the charges were overturned and Anwar was finally freed.

Najib's order to jail Anwar at all costs may backfire

Indeed, few first world governments have not either directly or indirectly criticized the sham trial that Anwar has been subjected to.

But that has not stopped Najib and his Umno party from turning a deaf ear and raising their arsenal against the storm of protest throughout the country and overseas.

As far as the ruling Umno-BN coalition is concerned, Anwar must be stopped at all costs or he will end their 52 years of cushy political hegemony.

From the mainstream local media to the police to the Chemistry Department to the judiciary, Najib has pulled out all stops to ensure a conviction, which could spell a 20-year jail term and whipping for his political arch enemy.

“The ruling party no doubt hopes a conviction will cause the opposition coalition to crumble. But it could just as easily provoke a backlash against Najib or street demonstrations that could destabilize the country," the influential Washinton Post wrote in a rare editorial on Southeast Asian politics.

"That’s why the Obama administration and other Western governments interested in stability in Asia should make clear that the imprisonment of Anwar would be a blatant human rights violation – and not in Malaysia’s interest.”

* This article is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The blog owner does not endorse the view unless specified.

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