My Journal: To defend Anwar is to defend Malaysian democracy

Friday, August 8, 2008

To defend Anwar is to defend Malaysian democracy

To defend Anwar is to defend Malaysian democracy
by: Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor and President Abdurrahman Wahid from The Financial Times

We know Anwar Ibrahim well and have the highest regard for him. For that reason, we are very concerned about recent developments in Malaysia that seem aimed at defaming him and threatening him with imprisonment in a manner reminiscent of the campaign to defame him in 1998.

The power to prosecute is one of the most awesome powers of the state. Without proper checks and balances it can easily be abused by those in power to humiliate and discredit innocent people. Even when the injustice is corrected, its victims are often left with their reputations permanently damaged. In Malaysia, the power to prosecute is being used to try to discredit Mr Anwar, the remarkable leader of the opposition, victim of a similar attack 10 years ago. If this effort were to succeed it would be a tragedy for Mr Anwar personally, for the people of Malaysia and for the world.

In 1974 Mr Anwar was jailed for 20 months, under Malaysia’s notorious internal security act, for leading demonstrations against rural poverty. Invited later to join the government, he rose to become Malaysia’s finance minister in 1991. His performance was recognised internationally. As deputy prime minister he was admired for his commitment to accountability and good governance. Many Malaysians wanted him to replace Mahathir Mohamad, the aging prime minister.

Poised to lead the nation towards greater transparency and the rule of law, his agenda for reform was clearly perceived as a threat by some. In 1998, as he was on the brink of succeeding Mr Mahathir, he was unjustly accused of sodomy and corruption, beaten in jail and convicted in a trial that was marked by coerced testimony, fabricated evidence and serious lapses in judicial integrity. He spent six years in solitary confinement before being released, in part through the wisdom of Mahathir’s successor as prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

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