To no one’s surprise, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was found guilty of sodomy last week and sentenced to nine years in prison. This conviction follows last year’s ruling that Mr. Anwar had abused his power while in office; only when that six-year prison term is complete will the second sentence begin. The Anwar affair is a sad commentary on Malaysia. It has created a martyr for the Malaysian opposition and discredited the nation’s institutions.
The trials have convinced many Malays, and many foreign observers, that the entire process has been a crude attempt to silence a threat to Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir. Mr. Anwar was once the heir apparent. When he broke with Mr. Mahathir over the best response to the Asian financial crisis, the scandal broke and the disgrace began.
First, Mr. Anwar was taken into custody by hooded police in a pointless show of force. After he was arrested, he was beaten by the national chief of police; at the time, the prime minister asserted that Mr. Anwar had injured himself to discredit the government. During the trial, witnesses changed their testimony and prosecutors repeatedly redrafted the indictment. Charges of conflict of interest on the part of the judges were dismissed out of hand.
The verdict has rightfully earned international condemnation. In Malaysia, protests were muted, but real damage has been done. The beating of a former deputy prime minister has shown that no one is safe from abuse. The way the trial was handled has increased cynicism among Malays. The willingness of the government to be so open about its abuse of democracy has alarmed many. Even Mr. Mahathir has acknowledged that his ruling party operates in a “hostile environment.”
The Anwar affair has discredited the Malaysian judiciary. It has shown that the government will not hesitate to bring all its weight to bear against the individuals it considers enemies. This decision has only increased their ranks.
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