To defend Anwar is to defend Malaysian democracy
By Sandra Day O’Connor and Abdurrahman Wahid
Published: August 7 2008 19:30 | Last updated: August 7 2008 19:30
We know Anwar Ibrahim well and have the highest regard for him. For that reason, we are very concerned about recent developments in Malaysia that seem aimed at defaming him and threatening him with imprisonment in a manner reminiscent of the campaign to defame him in 1998.
The power to prosecute is one of the most awesome powers of the state. Without proper checks and balances it can easily be abused by those in power to humiliate and discredit innocent people. Even when the injustice is corrected, its victims are often left with their reputations permanently damaged. In Malaysia, the power to prosecute is being used to try to discredit Mr Anwar, the remarkable leader of the opposition, victim of a similar attack 10 years ago. If this effort were to succeed it would be a tragedy for Mr Anwar personally, for the people of Malaysia and for the world.
In 1974 Mr Anwar was jailed for 20 months, under Malaysia’s notorious internal security act, for leading demonstrations against rural poverty. Invited later to join the government, he rose to become Malaysia’s finance minister in 1991. His performance was recognised internationally. As deputy prime minister he was admired for his commitment to accountability and good governance. Many Malaysians wanted him to replace Mahathir Mohamad, the aging prime minister.
Poised to lead the nation towards greater transparency and the rule of law, his agenda for reform was clearly perceived as a threat by some. In 1998, as he was on the brink of succeeding Mr Mahathir, he was unjustly accused of sodomy and corruption, beaten in jail and convicted in a trial that was marked by coerced testimony, fabricated evidence and serious lapses in judicial integrity. He spent six years in solitary confinement before being released, in part through the wisdom of Mahathir’s successor as prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Since then Mr Anwar has made a remarkable political comeback, thanks in no small measure to his wife, Wan Azizah, who led his party while he was banned from political activity and took it to success in Malaysia’s elections in March. With the ban on Mr Anwar lifted from April 14, it looked as if he had a chance to mount a serious challenge to the government and possibly emerge as the next prime minister. Last Thursday, Wan Azizah resigned her seat and Mr Anwar announced that he would run to fill it.
However, his enemies are fighting back, filing new sodomy charges. We find it impossible to believe these charges. We know Anwar as a man of integrity. We appreciate the way he has spoken on behalf of freedom, democracy and human rights. The charges are inconsistent with everything we know about his character.
At the same time, there are plausible motives for some to manufacture a false case against him. Mr Anwar last year brought evidence to a royal commission that enabled it to conclude that there had been improper influence exerted on judicial appointments. More recently he announced that he had evidence against the current attorney-general and the current inspector-general of police for the perversion of justice in his own prosecution in 1998-99. A few days ago it was disclosed that the doctor who first examined the alleged victim found no physical evidence to support the most recent accusation.
The Malaysian authorities need to recognise that there is no way that continued pursuit of these charges can be viewed as credible, given the history of prosecutorial abuse and manipulation of evidence in the earlier proceeding against Anwar. His political future should be decided at the polls, not through some suspect prosecutorial proceeding.
We are deeply concerned that the safety, freedom and reputation of an important leader in the Muslim world are at risk. So, too, is the integrity of Malaysia’s judicial system and along with it the credibility of the government in general. The future of Malaysia as an example of success for the developing world and for the entire Muslim world may be at stake.
We hope Mr Abdullah, who showed wisdom earlier in facilitating Anwar’s release from prison, will manage to drop the charges against Mr Anwar and in so doing serve the interests of justice for the people of Malaysia and for all the people of the world.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is a former justice of the US Supreme Court and Abdurrahman Wahid is former president of Indonesia
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008