Tuesday, 2nd February 2010
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he will subpoena Prime Minister Najib Razak to testify in his sodomy trial, accusing the premier and wife Rosmah Mansour of conspiring to frame him.
Anwar’s lead counsel Karpal Singh today petitioned the court at an opening hearing in Kuala Lumpur for a delay in order to gain access to evidence. The court adjourned until 2:30 p.m. local time.
“If Anwar loses he will be seen as a victim of political persecution; if Anwar wins, he is vindicated,” Ibrahim said. “Either way, it could just end up very badly for the government.”
Feeling the Heat
Najib is already feeling the heat from an inter-faith dispute that led to attacks on several Christian, Sikh and Muslim places of worship last month, including arson and the dumping of pigs’ heads in mosques. The government is appealing a High Court decision to allow a Catholic newspaper to use the word “Allah” to refer to God in its Malay-language section, as some Muslims feel the word is exclusive to Islam.
“This trial damages Malaysia’s already descending reputation,” said Ooi Kee Beng, an analyst at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. “Burning churches, sodomy trials, severed boar heads, a ban on singular words. The Prime Minister is going to have a hard time getting foreign direct investment to flow in.”
Malaysia’s government banned non-Muslim publications from referring to “Allah” in 1986 on the grounds it could threaten national security and confuse the country’s Muslims, who make up more than 60 percent of the 27 million population. Anwar supports the use of the word by other religions.
Not Guilty Plea
The sodomy case is now in its second year after Anwar pled not guilty at an August 2008 court session to charges of having sex with a 23-year-old former aide at an apartment in Kuala Lumpur on June 26, 2008. Sodomy, defined as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in Malaysia, even if the act is between two consenting men.
The trial and the ongoing religious dispute may distract attention from Najib’s policies aimed at boosting the economy and investor confidence in the country. Last year, the government announced measures to open up the financial and banking industries to attract more foreign investment.
In addition to 67 billion-ringgit ($20 billion) of stimulus packages unveiled last year, Najib on Jan. 28 announced a plan to reduce corruption, crime and poverty, while improving education, transport and rural infrastructure.
Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy will probably expand 4.1 percent this year after a 2.3 percent contraction in 2009, the World Bank said last week.
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister who was widely tipped to be the next leader of the country, faced similar allegations in 1998. He was sentenced to nine years in jail for sodomy and a separate corruption charge. He was released from prison in 2004 after the conviction was overturned.
Barred from politics until April 2008, Anwar won a seat in his former constituency in Permatang Pauh in August that year.
Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban