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TheAge: Opponents Fear Mahathir May Nobble Judiciary
By Mark Baker
22/11/2001 2:37 pm Thu
Opponents fear Mahathir may nobble judiciary
By MARK BAKER
Malaysian opposition leaders and human rights groups
have warned of a possible move by Prime Minister Mahathir
Mohamad to nobble the country's increasingly independent
judicial system after the appointment of a new hardline
They fear the appointment of controversial state prosecutor
Abdul Gani Patail is a first step towards countering a new
activism among Malaysia's most senior judges that has seen
the government lose a string of high-profile political cases
in recent months.
Mr Gani played a key role in the prosecution of former
deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is serving a
15-year jail sentence on internationally discredited
corruption and sodomy charges.
His conduct was questioned in a Federal Court ruling in
June that overturned the conviction of one of Mr Anwar's
lawyers, Zainur Zakaria, on charges relating to an affidavit
in which Mr Zainur had accused Mr Gani of attempting to
frame Mr Anwar. The ruling criticised the judge who
sentenced Mr Zainur for not questioning Mr Gani's conduct.
The leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, Lim
Kit Siang, said Mr Gani's appointment to the post of
attorney-general - which administers the courts and
controls all prosecutions - was "a very ominous
development" for the independence of the legal system.
"The judicial climate is becoming more and more inclement.
This appointment is a throwback to the legal dark ages of
the past in Malaysia," he said.
The social rights group Aliran said in a statement: "It is an
appointment that is not likely to enhance the prestige of our
system of justice or encourage public confidence in the
fairness of prosecution."
There is intense speculation that Malaysia's first woman
attorney-general, Ainum Mohammad Saaid, was forced out
of the job after 10 months because she was too liberal.
The leader of Malaysia's biggest opposition party, PAS,
Fadzil Mohammad Noor, said claims by Ms Ainum that she
was resigning for health reasons were questionable as
officials had confirmed she was offered alternative positions
within the government.
The leader of Malaysia's biggest opposition party, PAS, Fadzil Mohammad Noor, said claims by Ms Ainum that she was resigning for health reasons were questionable as officials had confirmed she was offered alternative positions within the government.
"The public just can't accept that the reason for her
resignation is health. It's political. It is the decision of the
government," he said.
There is widespread concern in legal circles that Dr
Mahathir is moving to curtail the more independent stance
of the judiciary since the appointment last December of the
reformist Dzaiddin Abdullah as Chief Justice of the Federal
In August a full bench of the court opened the way for a
landmark challenge to the government's use of the
draconian Internal Security Act to fight growing opposition
to its rule by agreeing to hear an appeal by six prominent
opposition activists jailed without trial for two years under
the colonial-era law.
In June another judge ordered the release of two other
opposition activists detained in April, condemning the police
handling of their case and urging the scrapping of the ISA.
The Malaysian Bar Council has called a meeting today to
consider its response to the appointment of Mr Gani as