Paul Martin on Anwar Ibrahim
Anwar Ibrahim is a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia. After having differences of opinion with prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998, he was removed from office, charged with sodomy and corruption – charges condemned worldwide as an attempt to remove him from politics – and imprisoned for six years. After his release in 2004, he became the leader of a coalition of opposition parties that is successfully challenging the ruling coalition’s power. Mr. Anwar has now been charged again with sodomy, a charge that has again been condemned worldwide.
I have known Mr. Anwar well since the period when we each served as finance ministers for our respective countries. He is deeply committed to democracy, justice and the rule of law. And I have watched with horror how he has been treated in Malaysia because of that commitment. His initial imprisonment was seen worldwide as politically motivated. Amnesty International regarded him as a prisoner of conscience, jailed for the non-violent expression of his political opinion. After his release in 2004, he redoubled his campaign, attracting thousands to his public rallies, with the result that the historic 2008 election returned an unprecedented number of opposition candidates to Parliament. He now poses a threat to the government in the next national elections, expected in 2013 – the real reason for the latest charge.
His trial, which began Feb. 2, is widely seen as not meeting international standards for a fair trial. The former Anwar political aide who is making the sodomy accusation was reportedly seen with leading ruling coalition figures prior to the filing of the charge; Mr. Anwar’s lawyers have been denied access to vital prosecution documents; and the trial has been transferred to a higher court whose judges are seen as linked to the ruling coalition’s main party. It is small wonder that Michael Danby, chair of Australia’s parliamentary subcommittee on foreign affairs, has charged that Malaysia’s legal system is being manipulated to drive Mr. Anwar out of politics. Mr. Danby has said that Asian democrats were “flabbergasted” by the charges and that “everyone in Malaysia, and everyone in the international legal community, knows that Anwar is innocent of these charges.”
The presence of so many foreign embassies attending Mr. Anwar’s show trial is a clear expression of international concern. This is an issue on which the world must speak out.
If his country is to take its place among the progressive nations of the world, it is crucial that the politically motivated charge against Mr. Anwar be dropped and that he be free to pursue his vision of a democratic Malaysia, properly respectful of human rights and international law.
Paul Martin is former prime minister of Canada.