Anwar Assails Malaysian Officials, Court

By James Hookway, Wall Street Journal

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim used his ongoing sodomy trial Monday to deliver a stinging attack accusing the judge and the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak of using a “show trial” to destroy his political career and extinguish any threat to the mostly Muslim nation’s ruling party.


Quoting liberally from Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela and the Quran from the dock, Mr. Anwar read for an hour from a prepared text, saying his political rivals cooked up charges that he violated Malaysia’s sodomy laws by having sex with a former male aide three years ago.

“It is a vile and desperate attempt at character assassination,” Mr. Anwar said. “They can do all they want to assassinate and sully my character and threaten me with another 20 years in jail, but mark my words: They won’t be able to cow me into submission.”

Mr. Najib and judicial officials didn’t respond to messages seeking comment Monday. Mr. Najib previously has denied any involvement in the case against Mr. Anwar, saying the charges against the 64-year-old opposition leader were filed independently by his former aide, 26-year-old Saiful Bukhari Azlan. People familiar with the government’s thinking also say Mr. Najib is concerned that the international community doesn’t appreciate that Malaysia’s judiciary has become more independent in recent years and the government sometimes loses cases.

In a telephone interview with The Wall Street Journal prior to Monday’s court proceedings, Mr. Anwar said he was dismayed at how debate over how to modernize this multiethnic country and make its economy more competitive internationally had degenerated into a series of sex allegations. Besides the sodomy trial, some of Mr. Anwar’s political opponents also suggested he was featured in a grainy video clip released on the Internet hugging a woman who his opponents claimed is a prostitute. Mr. Anwar and his family have denied he is the man pictured in the film.

“It’s really very telling how low they are willing to go,” Mr. Anwar said, without specifying who he was referring to.

Mr. Anwar was arrested and charged with sodomy in 2008, a few months after his three-party opposition alliance won control of several key states in hotly contested elections and broke the ruling National Front’s customary two-thirds hold on Parliament.

Mr. Najib, the 58-year-old aristocratic son of Malaysia’s second prime minister, became the country’s leader in 2009 and set about trying to reassert the National Front’s dominance. The coalition built around Mr. Najib’s United Malays National Organization party has controlled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957. To attract voters from ethnic minorities, he began rolling back Malaysia’s extensive system of race-based affirmative action policies that are designed to give an economic leg-up to the less prosperous majority Muslim Malay population by offering, among other things, subsidized loans and quotas at top universities. Mr. Najib also opened the way to more foreign investment in the financial sector and other businesses.

Although Mr. Najib doesn’t have to call elections until 2013, many analysts say they expect him to call early polls if it provides him with an advantage.

The multiethnic opposition continues to command considerable support, however, and Mr. Najib last week pledged to consider ways to change the country’s election laws in response to a massive demonstration of more than 20,000 people on the streets of Kuala Lumpur in July. That protest march, which included Mr. Anwar, himself a Muslim Malay, was forcibly broken up by police equipped with water cannons and tear gas.

In his speech Monday—which Mr. Anwar read from the dock instead of from the witness stand in order to avoid cross-examination from prosecutors—the opposition leader accused the judge of allowing DNA evidence that Mr. Anwar’s camp alleges is contaminated to be admitted.

Mr. Anwar also said his accuser, Mr. Saiful, was being manipulated by rival politicians. Mr. Saiful couldn’t be reached for comment.

This isn’t the first time Mr. Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, has accused Malaysia’s powerful leaders of manufacturing sex allegations to silence him. In 1998 he was charged with sodomizing two male aides and later convicted after challenging former leader Mahathir Mohamad. That conviction was overturned in 2004 and Mr. Anwar was freed after spending six years in prison. Mr. Mahathir denies fabricating a case against Mr. Anwar.

This time, Mr. Anwar said he expects the court to press for a conviction as quickly as possible. “They want to wrap things up quickly,” he told the Journal.