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TheAge: A confident Anwar goes to court
By Mark Baker

5/2/2002 12:24 pm Tue

A confident Anwar goes to court


Tuesday 5 February 2002

Malaysia's highest court yesterday began hearing a landmark appeal against the jailing of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, a case with potentially dramatic implications for the future of the Mahathir Government.

There are high expectations in Malaysian legal and opposition circles that the Federal Court will overturn a key plank of Mr Anwar's 15-year sentence for abuse of power and sexual misconduct.

A three-member bench, headed by reformist Chief Justice Dzaiddin Abdullah, is considering fresh evidence disputing charges that Mr Anwar abused his office by directing police to pressure witnesses to withdraw accusations against him of sodomy and sexual misconduct.

If the court were to overturn or reduce Mr Anwar's sentence for corruption - the first of two appeals - the government would face intense pressure to release the charismatic politician, who was once Dr Mahathir Mohamad's heir apparent.

Despite recent signs of flagging support for allied opposition parties, Mr Anwar is still seen as the rival most capable of breaking Dr Mahathir's grip on power.

Last year the same three judges hearing this appeal overturned a contempt conviction against one of Anwar's lawyers who accused authorities of fabricating evidence.

In their ruling, the judges strongly criticised the chief prosecutor in the case, Abdul Gani Patail, who was recently appointed Malaysia's Attorney-General.

"This is a real test for the court and its independent chief justice," said one of a group of Western diplomats who were in court yesterday to observe the hearing.

The United States, which has led international accusations that Mr Anwar's prosecution was politically motivated, recently renewed its criticism of his original trials and urged the Federal Court to make amends.

"We are watching the appeals for Anwar very closely ... We do not think that he had fair trials the two times that he went to court," American ambassador to Malaysia Marie Hutala told the independent Internet news service Malaysiakini last month.

"It could be corrected in the appeal process."

Riot police, backed by water cannon trucks, were on standby outside the court in central Kuala Lumpur yesterday as several hundred Anwar supporters cheered his arrival for the hearing, which had been postponed four times over the past year.

He was surrounded by family and friends as he entered the courtroom in a wheelchair, his neck and back braced to protect a persistent back injury he claims was the result of a police beating after his arrest in September 1998. In a brief conversation with journalists, he laughed off recent reports that he had been involved in secret talks with Dr Mahathir on a deal to secure his release.

"I had a lot of conversations, but that was before he had me arrested," he said.

Mr Anwar's lawyers yesterday told the court that they would present new evidence.

The evidence would show that four charges of corruption against Mr Anwar were not credible and that the case had been manipulated by police.

The charges involved claims that, before his sacking by Dr Mahathir, Mr Anwar had ordered the head and deputy head of the police special branch to pressure his former driver and the sister of his private secretary to withdraw statements in which they claimed to have had sexual relations with him.

According to prosecution evidence, the two had recanted their allegations - later reaffirmed - after the special branch officers had "neutralised and turned them over" and their statements had been delivered directly to Dr Mahathir at his office.

One of Mr Anwar's lawyers, Raja Aziz Addruse, said yesterday it would be demonstrated that the evidence given by the special branch officers had been embellished and that "the two lacked credibility altogether".

The hearing is due to continue for several days.

A date has still to be fixed for a separate appeal against Mr Anwar's conviction for sodomy and sexual misconduct.

Reuters Update: pi_news_id=1506516&pi_ctry=my&pi_lang=en

Malaysia's Anwar resumes corruption appeal

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Jailed Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim began on Tuesday the second day of a final appeal against corruption convictions, with fewer supporters and police turning out as he arrived in court.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar, sacked by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for sodomy and corruption, has seen support wane in recent months for his "reformasi" opposition movement.

A subdued-looking Anwar waved briefly to a dozen or so mostly-silent supporters as he arrived at the court complex, walking gingerly and wearing a neck brace and lumbar support to protect a slipped disc in his back.

The hearings, due to run until Thursday, concern convictions on four counts of corruption, or abuse of power, for which Anwar is serving a six-year term.

Even if acquitted, Anwar will stay in jail for his nine-year term on the sodomy conviction, which he is also fighting.

On Monday, defence counsel Raja Aziz Addruse rejected the charge his client tried to influence Special Branch police officers during an investigation into his sexual conduct.

"Call it direction, call it request, it never happened," he told the court.

The three Federal Court judges, headed by Chief Justice Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah, may rule immediately or reserve their decision for weeks or even months.

Muslim youth groups and urban intellectuals support Anwar, but he seems doomed to watch his former mentor consolidate support as he paints the fundamentalist opposition Parti Islam se-Malaysia, which also backs Anwar, as being soft on militancy.

Mahathir has drawn political strength from a backlash against Muslim fundamentalism following the September 11 hijacked aircraft attacks on the United States.

Anwar's court appearance in 1998 with bruises and a black eye, and subsequent trials, sparked outrage at home and abroad.

Washington called him a political prisoner, adding its voice to those of other governments and human rights groups in criticising the treatment and trial of Mahathir's heir apparent.

But Mahathir said the trials were fair and called his ex-deputy and finance minister immoral and unfit to rule.

anwar at court
Malaysia's jailed former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim arrives at the courthouse for a final appeal against corruption convictions in Kuala Lumpur on February 5. - REUTERS/Zainal Abdul Halim

Note: Anwar was recently tipped as a possible Nobel Peace Prize winner by Svein Toennesson, director of the independent International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, who said the committee might try to show the U.S.-led war against terrorism is not a war against Islam. - Reuters