In a surprising move, Malaysian prosecutors have amended four of the charges that have been brought against former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. The prosecutors claim the changes are superficial. The amendments now say that Mr. Anwar used the police to get witnesses to retract allegations that would cause him “embarrassment”; formerly, the coercion was alleged to have protected him from “criminal action or proceedings.” The government argues that the underlying rationale for his actions is unimportant; what matters is the abuse of power. The presiding judge has agreed.
There is another way of looking at the amendments. After two months of hearings that focused on sordid accusations regarding Mr. Anwar’s sex life — and included the introduction of an allegedly semen-stained mattress as evidence — the government has decided that it cannot prove that any laws related to sexual misconduct have been violated. (And sodomy is against the law in Malaysia.) Mr. Anwar’s attorneys have protested, arguing that their client has been dragged through the mud for nothing. Moreover, they claim that the amendments make it easier for prosecutors to win their case since they could not prove the underlying basis for the original corruption charges.
The prosecutors are within their right to amend their charges. That can occur at almost any time during a trial. But the shift of focus suggests a fundamental weakness in the prosecution’s strategy. Coming on top of earlier revelations by high-ranking police officials of their willingness to lie in court if ordered to do so, the move is another blow to the credibility of the Malaysian government. It reinforces the image of a government that can be reckless when pursuing its enemies.
The government’s acknowledgment that parts of its case are weak is a good sign, It means that the judiciary’s standards of proof are still rigorous. But these last-minute amendments are still troubling. Many individuals, both in Malaysia and abroad, view the Anwar trial as a malicious prosecution. As the proceedings continue, it is clear that it is not only Mr. Anwar that is on trial.
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