Rebuttal to Josh Treviño on Anwar Ibrahim’s Trial

By Azeem Ibrahim, Huffington Post

In Malaysia, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been put on trial for sodomy. In the main, the Western political establishment is skeptical about the trial, believing it to be a politically motivated attempt to remove the popular opposition leader from the political scene before he can take power. As is the Malaysian public. Only 11 percent believe the charge, and 88 percent think it’s a political conspiracy.

Public Relations professional Joshua Treviño has been on “attack-Anwar” mode lately, authoring several pieces in recent months critiquing Anwar and questioning his credibility in the West. In his most recent piece, Treviño doesn’t come right out and say that the trial is genuine, but he does try to give a few reasons as to why we should question the conventional wisdom that the trial is merely a political maneuver to get rid of Anwar. Those reasons fall short. Let us look at them one by one.

In the article Treviño argues that Anwar’s relative popularity in the West is based on the mistaken impression that he shares many of the West’s political values.

But Anwar is popular in the West because he has consistently called for democracy, good governance, accountability, and dialogue of civilizations. Compare this to the current Prime Minister, or any of his predecessors, who have said relatively little about such things in Malaysia and done even less to reform a system saddled with endemic corruption.

What’s more, if Treviño really had a good reason to believe that Anwar did not support such values, he would surely have used his article to say so. The fact that he did not take the opportunity implies that he knows that compared to his predecessor, Anwar does in fact share many of the West’s political values.

If we look at the specifics of the trial, there are more reasons to be skeptical of Treviño’s argument.

Firstly, he accuses the Western media of not taking the substantive accusations against Anwar seriously. He is accused of sodomy – a crime in Malaysia – with Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a young former political aide.

It is true that most Western media have not taken the accusations too seriously. There are three good reasons for this.

The first is that the Malaysian government has falsely accused Anwar of sodomy to remove him from the political scene before. In 2000, after feuding with Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, Anwar was publicly denounced by the Prime Minister as a homosexual, tried, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison – a punishment which under Malaysia law means he could not engage in political activities for five years after the end of his sentence. His accusers later recanted their accusations, saying that they had been coerced into making them. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both expressed doubts that he got a fair trial. And indeed, the year after Mahathir left office, Malaysia’s highest court overturned the conviction, citing contradictions in the prosecution’s case. Treviño concedes that the first trial was indeed a politically motivated plot by the government to get rid of Anwar. He also concedes that the reason most Western media are not taking the accusations seriously “lies in the circumstances of Anwar’s first trial.”

It certainly seems that way. This time, when Anwar had reemerged from the political wilderness as popular opposition leader and potentially the next Prime Minister of Malaysia, he was accused of sodomy again.

The second reason why the Western media have not taken the accusations too seriously is lack of evidence. At the moment, it is the word of the aide against the word of Anwar. Not only is there no substantial evidence in the public domain to back up the accuser’s case, there are also medical reports in the public domain, which refute the accuser’s claims.

The third reason is that the trial is being held amidst great secrecy, for no good reason. Today, over six months into the trial, Anwar Ibrahim’s defense team is still denied access to documents, forensic reports, and CCTV recordings held by the prosecution. One has to ask why, if the government is really so confident of its case, it would want the trial to be subject to so little scrutiny.




Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and Chairman and CEO of Ibrahim Associates.