17 March 2014

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The Telegraph

Allies and neighbours concerned after prime minister discloses flight MH370 crossed its territory without being picked up by military radar

Malaysia has rejected questions over its air defence systems following the seizure and disappearance of flight MH370 and claimed the lessons learned from the crisis could “change aviation history”.

The disclosure by Prime Minister Najib Razak that the Malaysia Airlines plane was seized shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, turned around over the South China Sea and flew back over Peninsular Malaysia without alerting the country’s defence forces has caused alarm among neighbours and allies.

After the September 11 2001 attacks on the United States, air defences across the world were tightened and new procedures adopted to speed the detection of rogue aircraft and intercept them before they could be used as weapons of terrorism.

But the apparent failure of Malaysia, which has a defence agreement with Britain, to notice that the plane had changed direction, fallen off the radar and then flown towards and through its air space has identified serious loopholes in its air defences.

Most countries with advanced air forces would detect an incoming hostile aircraft 200 miles from shore and scramble fighter jets to challenge it.

There has been strong criticism of the failure in China, India and in private by Western diplomats and defence analysts.

A Western security source said while the current focus is on helping Malaysia locate the missing plane, “there are a lot of questions – how did it get to the point where it came back and went wherever? You would have thought [planes] would have been scrambled and the Malaysians would have acted.”

Sugata Pramanik, an Indian air traffic controllers’ leader, said a plane can “can easily become invisible to civilian radar by switching off the transponder … But it cannot avoid defence systems.”

One senior Indian Navy commander, Rear Admiral Sudhir Pillai, however said his country’s military radars were occasionally “switched off as we operate on an ‘as required’ basis”.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force is widely respected and has a fleet of Sukhoi S30 and F16 fighter jets and does regular training exercises with their British, Australian, New Zealand and Singapore counterparts.

Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein however dismissed the concerns and said the disaster was an “unprecedented case” with lessons for all.

“It’s not right to say there is a breach in the standard procedures … what we’re going through here is being monitored throughout the world and may change aviation history,” he said.

His comments were supported by Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s Director General of Civil Aviation, who said “many will have lessons to learn from this. I’ve been in aviation for 35 years and I’ve never seen this kind of incident before”.

Neither elaborated on the loopholes exposed beyond Malaysia by the seizure of MH370 and stressed that Kuala Lumpur would not focus on the issue until it had found the aircraft and its passengers on crew.

Anifah Aman, Malaysia’s foreign minister, told The Telegraph the world was “missing the point” by focusing on security implications and that he still hoped for a ‘miracle’ in finding the passengers and crew alive.

“The focus must be on finding the plane. I don’t want to support any of the theories at this juncture. This involves a lot of lives. My worry is where is the plane and what little chance that people are safe so that they can come back … we believe in miracles and like to think they’re safe and can return to their families,” he said.

The prime minister confirmed on Saturday that the Boeing 777 had been flown from close to Vietnamese air space over the South China Sea, back across the Malaysian peninsula to the Strait of Malacca, close to Penang, and then took two possible navigational corridors.

Search operations, now including 25 countries, are now focused on a northern corridor from the Turkmenistan-Kazakhstan border to northern Thailand and a southern sector from Indonesia to the vast southern Indian Ocean.

The investigation into what happened to the plane is now based on four theories – all of which follow from Mr Najib’s acceptance on Saturday that the plane had been deliberately seized or hijacked.

Police Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar said those who had taken the plane were either hijackers, saboteurs, someone with a personal vendetta or a psychological problem.

His investigation had been launched under a Malaysian law which covers terrorism offences, he said.

Until now the government has been reluctant to refer to the seizure as a hijacking or act of terrorism because they have yet to find any evidence on the motive of whoever seized the plane on Saturday March 8th.

The minister and the police chief’s comments however marked a freer use of the terms following the prime minister’s confirmation that the plane had been deliberately taken and re-routed.

Malaysia has not suffered terrorism on the scale of neighbours Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, although several Malaysian nationals are known to have received training from al-Qaeda.

 

17 March 2014

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The Economist

The countries where politically connected businessmen are most likely to prosper

AMERICA’S Gilded Age, in the late 19th century, saw tycoons such as John D. Rockefeller industrialise the country—and accumulate vast fortunes, build palatial mansions and bribe politicians. Then came the backlash. Between 1900 and 1945 America began to regulate big business and build a social safety net. In her book “Plutocrats”, Chrystia Freeland argues that emerging markets are now experiencing their first gilded age, and rich countries their second, with the world’s wealthiest 1%, who benefited disproportionately from 20 years of globalisation, forming a “new virtual nation of Mammon”.

Inventing a better widget, tastier snack or snazzier computer program is one thing. But many of today’s tycoons are accused of making fortunes by “rent-seeking”: grabbing a bigger slice of the pie rather than making the pie bigger. In technical terms, an economic rent is the difference between what people are paid and what they would have to be paid for their labour, capital, land (or any other inputs into production) to remain in their current use. In a world of perfect competition, rent would not exist. Common examples of rent-seeking (which may or may not be illegal) include forming cartels and lobbying for rules that benefit a firm at the expense of competitors and customers.

Class warriors and free-market devotees alike are worrying about rent-seeking. American libertarians fear an elite has rigged their country’s economy; plenty of ordinary Joes reckon the government and Federal Reserve care more about Wall Street than Main Street. Many hedge-fund managers sniff that China is a house of cards built by indebted cronies.

To test the claim that rent-seekers are on the rampage, we have created a crony-capitalist index. Our approach builds on work by Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley Investment Management, Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton of New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, and others. We use data fromForbes to calculate the total wealth of those of the world’s billionaires who are active mainly in rent-heavy industries, and compare that total to world GDP to get a sense of its scale. We show results for 23 countries—the five largest developed ones, the ten largest developing ones for which reliable data are available, and a selection of eight smaller ones where cronyism is thought to be a big problem. The higher the ratio, the more likely the economy suffers from a severe case of crony-capitalism.

We have included industries that are vulnerable to monopoly, or that involve licensing or heavy state involvement (see table 1). These are more prone to graft, according to the bribery rankings produced by Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog. Some are obvious. Banks benefit from an implicit state guarantee that lowers their cost of borrowing. When publicly owned coal mines, land and telecoms spectrum are handed to tycoons on favourable terms, the public suffers. But the boundary between legality and graft is complex. A billionaire in a rent-heavy industry need not be corrupt or have broken the law. Industries that are close to the state are still essential, and can be healthy and transparent.

A galaxy of riches

Billionaires in crony sectors have had a great century so far (see chart 2). In the emerging world their wealth doubled relative to the size of the economy, and is equivalent to over 4% of GDP, compared with 2% in 2000. Developing countries contribute 42% of world output, but 65% of crony wealth. Urbanisation and a long economic boom have boosted land and property values. A China-driven commodity boom enriched natural-resource owners from Brazil to Indonesia. Some privatisations took place on dubious terms.

Of the world’s big economies, Russia scores worst (see chart 3). The transition from communism saw political insiders grab natural resources in the 1990s, and its oligarchs became richer still as commodity prices soared. Unstable Ukraine looks similar. Mexico scores badly mainly because of Carlos Slim, who controls its biggest firms in both fixed-line and mobile telephony. French and German billionaires, by contrast, rely rather little on the state, making their money largely from retail and luxury brands.

America scores well, too. The total wealth of its billionaires is high relative to GDP, but was mostly created in open sectors. Silicon Valley’s wizards are far richer than America’s energy billionaires. It is one of the few countries where rent-seeking fortunes grew only in line with the economy in recent years, which explains its improved position since 2007. Despite concerns about vampire-squid financiers, few of its billionaires made their money in banking. Even including private equity as rent-seeking, on the grounds that it benefits from tax breaks and cheap loans, would make little difference. Compared with Larry Ellison of Oracle, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone is a pauper.

Countries that do well on the crony index generally have better bureaucracies and institutions, as judged by the World Economic Forum. But efficient government is no guarantee of a good score: Hong Kong and Singapore are packed with billionaires in crony industries. This reflects scarce land, which boosts property values, and their role as entrepots for shiftier neighbours. Hong Kong has also long been lax on antitrust: it only passed an economy-wide competition law two years ago.

Another surprise is that despite its reputation for graft, mainland China scores quite well. One reason is that the state owns most natural resources and banks; these are a big source of crony wealth in other emerging economies. Another is that China’s open industries have fostered a new generation of fabulously rich entrepreneurs, including Jack Ma of Alibaba, an e-commerce firm, and Liang Wengen of Sany, which makes diggers and cranes.

One of the most improved countries is India, which moved from sixth place in our ranking to ninth. Recent graft scandals and a slowing economy have hurt many of its financially leveraged and politically connected businessmen, while those active in technology, pharmaceuticals and consumer goods have prospered. Turkish billionaires in rent-seeking industries have been hit by their country’s financial turmoil. By contrast most countries in South-East Asia, including Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, saw their scores get worse between 2007 and 2014, as tycoons active in real estate and natural resources got richer.

Who are you calling a crony?

Our crony index has three big shortcomings. One is that not all cronies make their wealth public. This may be a particular problem in China, where recent exposés suggest that many powerful politicians have disguised their fortunes by persuading friends and family to hold wealth on their behalf. Unreliable property records also help to disguise who owns what.

Second, our categorisation of sectors is crude. Rent-seeking may take place in those we have labelled open, and some countries have competitive markets we label crony. Some think America’s big internet firms are de-facto monopolies that abuse their positions. South Korea’s chaebol, which sell cars and electronics to the world, are mainly in industries we classify as open. But they have a history of bribing politicians at home. China’s billionaires, in whatever industry, are often chummy with politicians and get subsidised credit from state banks. According to Rupert Hoogewerf of the Hurun Report, a research firm, a third are members of the Communist Party. Sectors that are cronyish in developing countries may be competitive in rich ones: building skyscrapers in Mumbai is hard without paying bribes, and easy in Berlin. Our index does not differentiate.

The third limitation is that we only count the wealth of billionaires. Plenty of rent-seeking may enrich the very wealthy who fall short of that cut-off. America’s subprime boom saw hordes of bankers earn cumulative bonuses in the millions of dollars, not billions. Crooked Chinese officials may have Range Rovers and secret boltholes in Singapore—but not enough wealth to join a list of billionaires. So our index is only a rough guide to the concentration of wealth in opaque industries compared with more competitive ones.

Despite the boom in crony wealth, there are grounds for optimism. Some countries are tightening antitrust rules. Mexico has many lucrative near-monopolies, from telecoms to food, but its government is at last aiming to improve regulation and boost competition. India’s legal system is trying to jail a minister accused of handing telecoms licences to his chums.

Encouragingly, there are also hints that cronyism may have peaked. The share of billionaire wealth from rent-seeking industries has declined in developing countries, from a high of 76% in 2008 to 58% (see chart 4). That partly reflects lower commodity prices. But now that emerging markets are slowing, investors are becoming pickier. More are steering clear of firms in opaque industries with bad governance. The price-earnings ratio of firms in crony sectors is now at its biggest discount to firms in open sectors for 15 years. That suggests that the highest returns to outside investors are to be found in open industries.

Perhaps when growth picks up again in emerging markets, rent-seeking will explode once more. Or, as countries get richer, the share of great wealth that is made in crony industries may naturally decline. In 1900 American tycoons became rich by building and financing railroads. By 1930 the action had shifted to food production, photography and retailing. Cronies around the world should take note.

17 March 2014

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Asia Sentinel

Miscues and media gaffes are turning Malaysia into an object of anger and criticism in the aftermath of the disappearance early Saturday morning of a Malaysian Airlines jetliner carrying 239 passengers and crew.

No trace of the craft has been found despite a search encompassing thousands of square kilometers.  On Wednesday, the day was dominated by confusion over reports that the aircraft might have attempted to head back toward Malaysia before it disappeared.

Malaysia’s air force chief told reporters very early Wednesday that the plane had veered off course. Later in the morning, the same officer denied the report sharply. By Wednesday afternoon, the government seemed to reverse itself again, requesting assistance from India in searching the Andaman Sea, north of the Malacca Strait, where the plane may have gone down far from the current search area off the coast of Vietnam.

Officials finally said the plane “may” have been heading toward the Strait of Malacca when it disappeared and that the search was now also concentrated in that area.

Other countries have grown frustrated.  The Chinese, with 152 passengers on board, have complained about a lack of transparency over details. They have also complained that Malaysian Airlines staff handling relatives of the victims in Beijing have been short of information and in many cases don’t speak Mandarin.

From the start, according to critics, the Malaysians have treated the disappearance and ensuing inconsistencies as a local problem instead of one that has focused the attention of the entire world’s media on the tragedy. In a semi-democratic country with a largely supine domestic media, the government insists it has the situation in hand but that hardly seems the case.

Often, those giving press briefings about the affair communicate badly in English to an international press whose lingua franca is English.  Because of widely differing reports of where the aircraft actually disappeared, the picture being delivered is one of incompetence. Networks like the BBC and CNN are openly declaring that the post-accident situation is a mess.

Some of it isn’t Malaysia’s fault.  An initial report that two possible hijackers using fake passports somehow got through the country’s passport control because of lax surveillance turned out to be false.  While the two were traveling on false passports, apparently the stolen documents had never been reported to Interpol, which tracks such incidents.  The pair turned out to be Iranians seeking asylum in Europe.

But that wasn’t helped by the fact that Malaysian authorities originally said erroneously that as many as four to five people could have been traveling with suspect passports, raising the possibility of a fully-fledged hijack gang aboard.

But five days into the loss of the aircraft and with no idea of where it could have disappeared, there is growing concern over who is in charge, coupled with the fact that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has largely removed himself from the picture, allowing his cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, the defense minister and acting transport minister, to deal with the affair.

International treaties that allow for Malaysia to greatly expand the probe by calling in experts from foreign governments to help were not invoked until Wednesday, it seems, when it was reported that US and other foreign experts had finally been invited to take part in the formal investigation. It seemed again that valuable time had been lost.

Much of the problem is due to the fact that the Malaysian government has habitually handled information as a problem rather than as a means of communication. The mainstream news media are all owned by the ruling political parties and are used to being fed information the government wants them to hear.  Government-owned MAS at one point issued a press release only to recall it twice because of misspellings and misinformation.

In a deeply divided political culture, especially in the last year as the opposition has grown more effective, the government is finding it difficult to manage the flow of information on a disaster. In addition, in the midst of this flight crisis the government is seeming preoccupied by court actions to drive two opposition leaders, Anwar Ibrahim of  Parti Keadilan Rakyat, and Karpal Singh of the Democratic Action Party, out of Parliament.

At the start, the plane was characterized as having simply gone off the radar – until Wednesday, when a report carried in Berita Harian, a government-controlled Malay-language newspaper, quoted Air Force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud as saying Malaysian radar had tracked the missing Boeing 777-200 turning left from its last known location on radar. It then supposedly crossed Malaysia itself and disappeared over the Strait of Malacca.

The report set off a frenzy. CNN and the BBC carried maps of the new possible crash site as it was reported that the massive search for the wreckage had shifted to the waters between Malaysia and Indonesia instead of the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam.

Then the report was emphatically denied by Daud, who told a press conference that “I wish to state that I did not make any such statements as above.”

CNN, however,  quoted an unnamed “senior air force source” as saying the plane indeed had shown up on radar for more than an hour after contact was lost at around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. The craft was last detected, according to the official, near Pulau Perak, a small island in the Strait of Malacca.

Has four days been wasted by a huge flotilla of airplanes and ships that have been scouring the South China Sea for wreckage while the plane might actually be somewhere 900 km. to the west?  The Vietnamese announced they were suspending their participation in the search.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Tuesday complained about the lack of progress in finding the plane, saying “We once again request and urge the Malaysia side to enhance and strengthen rescue and searching efforts.”  The Chinese government itself is starting to feel the heat, offering to deploy 10 satellites in the effort to find the plane.

The crisis wasn’t helped any by a sensational revelation from Australia by a young South African woman that she and a friend had once ridden in the cockpit of an MAS flight from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the missing co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, and had pictures of themselves flirting with the pilots, who were even smoking in the cockpit, to prove it.

Since 9/11 in the United States, airline regulations forbid anyone not part of the crew from gaining access to the cockpit. If nothing else, the story and the pictures are an indication of lax flight deck discipline and raise questions if someone could have got into the pilots’ cabin aboard MH370.

17 March 2014

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Malaysiakini

In questioning a news report which linked the pilot of MH370 to her husband, PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail asked: “Is everything Anwar’s fault?”.

She was responding to UK tabloid Daily Mail‘s report that Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a PKR member, is a “political fanatic”.

“There are many PKR members. They say Captain Zaharie cried over the (sodomy) verdict. Millions of other Malaysians did so, too,” Wan Azizah said.

Daily Mail had reported that Zaharie (right) was in court when the verdict with regard to Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction was delivered less than 24 hours before MH370 took off from KLIA at 12.41am on March 8.

Berita Harian also published a column floating the theory that the mysterious disappearance had to do with claims that most MAS pilots support Pakatan Rakyat.

Wan Azizah also denied that Pakatan is politicising the disappearance of MH370 but was merely criticising what seemed to be poor crisis management on the part of the government.

“We sympathise with the victims but we criticise how the government has handled this crisis. We are not politicising it.
“We see a lack of preparedness for such crises, especially aviation ones. We prepare for floods and crises on land but not in the air. That is the critique,” the Kajang by-election candidate told reporters.

BN leaders had urged Pakatan to stop politicising the missing Malaysia Airlines’ aircraft on the campaign trail.

Meanwhile, PKR Kajang by-election director Abdul Khalid Ibrahim said the party does not dispute that Zaharie is a PKR lifetime member.

“It means he paid the party RM200. Just like I did,” he added.

17 March 2014

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Slate

Zaharie Ahmad Shah supported Anwar Ibrahim. That’s common sense, not zealotry.

There is an axiom in Malaysian politics: Eventually everything comes back to Anwar Ibrahim. So, the longer that the fumbling and inept investigation into the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has gone on, the more certain it became that it would somehow boomerang to the leader of the country’s democratic opposition.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Najib Razak went before the cameras to declare that officials believe the plane was deliberately diverted and flown in an unknown direction somewhere along a wide arc from Kazakhstan to deep into the Indian Ocean. Now that the search for the Boeing 777 has turned into a criminal investigation, the authorities are taking a close look at the flight’s chief pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and its first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid.

They quickly learned—as no doubt all of Shah’s friends knew—that the pilot was a strong supporter of Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party. Indeed, Shah is believed to have attended Anwar’s court hearing on March 7 that overturned his 2012 acquittal on sodomy charges, a politically motivated case that the Malaysian government typically dusts off around election time. On Sunday, the U.K. and Malaysian press treated the revelation with the shock you might reserve for damning evidence. Shah was described—by an unnamed source—as a “fanatical supporter of the country’s opposition leader.” Elsewhere, he is described (apparently by unnamed police sources) as “fervent” and “strident” in his political convictions. More than a week after the Boeing 777 disappeared, we lack a motive, a clear suspect, or even a crime scene, but we have our “Anwar Ibrahim connection.” That is Malaysian politics.

A fanatical supporter of Anwar Ibrahim does sound scary—as long as you know nothing about him.

Anwar is the 66-year old opposition leader who is the principal thorn in the side of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that has ruled Malaysia for 56 years. Anwar heads a coalition of parties, which includes his own multiethnic party, that has made the greatest inroads against the country’s corrupt masters. In 2008, the opposition won more than a third of the seats in parliament—the first time that UMNO lost its supermajority that allowed it to change the constitution at the prime minister’s whim. Anwar, who had been a political prisoner for six years, most of it in solitary confinement, won his seat in a landslide, and the opposition won five of the country’s 13 state governments. Last year, his opposition party claimed to have won the election against the ruling party, a contest that many say was marred by widespread fraud. Anwar supported the massive protests that followed the ruling party’s supposed victory, but he never called for a toppling of the government.

Anwar is trying to defeat Malaysia’s authoritarian regime through elections—not terrorism, let alone revolution. So, to be clear, what we know is that the pilot of MH370 is a fanatical supporter of a nonviolent man who supports a pluralistic and democratic Malaysia.

Of course, we don’t know Shah’s precise state of mind, and it is true that hours before the flight, his political hero had just been dealt bad news with the court’s decision to overturn his previous acquittal. But this is not news that Anwar or his close supporters would have found shocking. On several occasions I have interviewed Anwar, most recently at his home in 2011, he was always forced to operate under the threat of these politically trumped-up charges that he viewed as nothing more than a weak effort to discredit him. Indeed, few Malaysians view the government’s accusations as anything other than evidence of crooked politics, and Anwar has only become more popular and UMNO’s rule more brittle.

But, if we are engaging in wild theories—and why not, this is Malaysian politics—then why would unnamed police sources be playing up the pilot’s political beliefs a week after we are no closer to knowing the truth about MH370? Because the Malaysian authorities’ performance during this investigation is a pretty reasonable approximation of what passes for governance in a corrupt, nepotistic regime that long ago lost any purpose besides accumulating wealth and extending its own power. Malaysia has fallen behind its Southeast Asian competitors economically in large part because of its stunted political culture. Acting transportation minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s defensive press conferences and updates, which range from opaque to contradictory, are what you’d expect from government ministers who are seldom expected to answer questions.

So, is it possible that Shah hijacked the Malaysia Airlines flight in some twisted form of protest against the government? Of course—even if it seems a less likely explanation than the half dozen other theories that are being floated. Because, whatever happened on board Flight 370, Shah’s support of Anwar Ibrahim is the one piece of evidence that suggests he had a firm grip on reality, not that he was trying to escape it.

17 March 2014

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Al Jazeera

[There are] too many contradictions [in the government's official line]. This is not the way to manage a crisis. – Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysian opposition leader

Malaysians awoke last Saturday morning to distressing and unexpected news; one of the national carrier’s planes had gone missing.

As thousands took to social media to express their concern for the 239 people on board flight MH370, Malaysian activist Azrul Khalib and his friends began thinking about a more meaningful way to show their support for those affected.

The result was the Wall of Hope – a place for ordinary people to share their own handwritten messages of hope for passengers and crew.

“We are not able to contribute to the search itself, but we are hoping this small contribution can help console, heal and support the families affected,” said Azrul, who is part of a group called Malaysians for Malaysia.

The first wall was erected in a luxury shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur City Centre on Monday. The response was immediate. The 200 tags printed initially for people to leave their messages on were used up in just half an hour. The mall printed thousands more.

“We want them to know that the whole country is standing next to them and supporting them in this really terrible time. In times like this we discover that there are things bigger than ourselves. We are reminded of our humanity,” Azrul said.

Still searching

Nearly a week after the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 went missing on a night flight to Beijing, and with the search for the plane now stretching from the Indian Ocean to the coast of Vietnam, the incident has inspired widespread sympathy for those involved.

But it has also exposed the shortcomings of Malaysia’s government amid ferocious criticism of its handling of the crisis. Information has been patchy and government ministers, the airline and civil servants have sometimes contradicted each other or made comments widely deemed as inappropriate.

Despite the emergence in the country of a vibrant online press, Malaysian ministers are rarely challenged on policy because most of the mainstream media is either owned by the state or the ruling political parties.

Legislation that limits freedom of expression, such as the Sedition Act, cows many journalists and fosters a climate of self-censorship. Investigative journalism is almost unheard of in a country that’s been governed by more-or-less the same coalition since independence in 1957.

At a particularly testy press conference on Wednesday, a government press official even berated journalists over their “ethics” for trying to interview the Chinese ambassador who’d unexpectedly arrived to listen to the proceedings.

The official told the media they should be using the room only to speak to Malaysian officials.

“The government has been so comfortable with the local subservient media that when facing the free international media, they are in disarray,” opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told parliament the next day.

“[There are] too many contradictions. This is not the way to manage a crisis. Each and every statement must be verified first before being issued.”

Communications breakdown

With the plane seeming to have vanished, and just a handful of facts provided to the public, a multitude of conspiracy theories have flourished.

The aircraft, with 227 passengers and 12 crew representing 14 different nationalities, took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41am on March 9.

Climbing to its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, the Boeing 777 headed out on a clear night across the South China Sea. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, signed off from Malaysian air traffic control at 1:30am.

It was their last communication.

The vast area of search, compounded by the possibility that the plane turned back across the Malay Peninsula, has highlighted the limitations not only in technology but also of cooperation at the national, regional and international levels.

“MH370 has revealed real gaps in the government of Malaysia’s capabilities,” said Ernie Bower, senior adviser and Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC.

“The incident has stress-tested Malaysia’s security systems, interagency coordination and maritime and aviation domain awareness capabilities and all three areas have been very publicly revealed as needing serious enhancement.”

Vietnam, the US and several other countries are aiding in the search and rescue operation [EPA]

As of Friday, some 13 countries were involved in looking for the plane, with 57 ships and 48 aircraft scouring the South China Sea and the north of the Strait of Malacca in what is still being referred to as a search and rescue operation. On Friday, the search was extended further towards the Indian Ocean.

“The investigation team is following all leads that may help locate the missing aircraft,” the Malaysian government said in a media statement. “We continue to work closely with the US team, whose officials have been on the ground in Kuala Lumpur to help with the investigation since Sunday.”

Each day brings new speculation about the reasons for the plane’s disappearance and where it might be, deepening the anguish for those whose friends and family were on board the flight.

Selamat Omar has been staying at a hotel near the airport with other families since the incident happened, waiting for any news on the whereabouts of his son, Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat, who was onboard the plane.

Omar is not interested in apportioning blame; he just wants the aircraft found.

“This is no one’s fault,” he told Al Jazeera. “I don’t think one human being would want to kill another. I don’t think Malaysia Airlines wants to lose money.” Mohd Khairul’s wife was also at the hotel but too distraught to speak to anyone, he said.

It is a view shared by the people adding their messages of support – in languages including English, Malay, Arabic and German – to the now more than 25 Walls of Hope that have been set up around the country.

“We are waiting for a miracle,” said 21-year-old marketing student Andrew Law after he and his friends tied their messages alongside the hundreds of others already on display in one Kuala Lumpur mall.

“We need to have faith.”

14 March 2014

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By Graeme Reid, Human Rights Watch

13th March 2014

 

On March 7, Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to five years in prison for sodomy. This is just the latest iteration in a long and unfortunate history of using sodomy laws against political rivals.

In 1307, King Philip IV of France, deeply indebted to the Order of the Knights Templar, accused the Knights of sodomy and used this as a pretext to dissolve the order. In 1533, King Henry VIII of England promulgated the Buggery Act, accused monks of sodomy, and used that as an excuse to confiscate their monastic lands. King Henry also disposed of his opponent Lord Hungerford by executing him for sodomy in 1540. He had discovered what King Philip realized two centuries earlier: Sodomy accusations are an effective way of getting rid of pesky creditors and trouncing political opponents.

Indeed, what is most exasperating about the verdict of Malaysia’s Court of Appeal in the “sodomy” trial of the opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is precisely that: It is so politically effective.

The March 7 verdict overturns a 2012 acquittal of Anwar on sodomy charges, effectively taking him out of political life at a crucial time. He was poised to run in an important by-election for state assembly, which, if he won, would have made him eligible to take over as chief minister of Selangor, Malaysia’s most prosperous and developed state. Candidates were required to file applications to run for office on March 11, but Malaysian electoral law prohibits people convicted of a criminal offense from running for office.

Anwar has appealed to Malaysia’s highest court. However, if it upholds the conviction, he will be forced to give up his parliamentary seat and go to prison. In addition to the five-year sentence, Malaysian law would prohibit him from running for office for another five years after he serves his sentence. Anwar, now 66, would be 76 before he could resume active political life.

That may be comforting for Prime Minister Najib Razak and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled the country in various forms since its independence from Britain in 1957. Under Anwar’s leadership, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition has become a potent electoral threat. It won a majority of the popular vote in the May 2013 election, though gerrymandered districts kept it from winning a majority of seats. Anwar is the linchpin for that coalition, holding together three disparate political parties, and has become a political thorn in Najib’s side. The leader’s conviction would spell doom for the opposition party.

Sodomy laws, an antiquated relic of British colonialism, have been used to hound Anwar since 1998. He was ousted as deputy prime minister and jailed on trumped-up sodomy and corruption charges, but freed in 2004 when Malaysia’s highest court overturned the sodomy charges. According to the Women’s Candidacy Initiative, a Malaysian organization, it’s telling that the sodomy laws have only been invoked seven times since 1938 — and in four of those instances, against Anwar.

In 2008, Anwar’s male aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari, accused him of rape. Police determined that the then 60-year-old Anwar, plagued with back problems, could not have sexually assaulted the healthy 23-year-old Saiful. The charges were changed to consensual sodomy, although Saiful was never charged. During the trial, Saiful admitted that on June 24, 2008, two days before the alleged rape, he had met with the then-Deputy Prime Minister Najib and his wife.

From the outset, the case against Anwar was plagued with irregularities. During the trial, the prosecution refused to turn over key evidence, in spite of requirements in the Malaysian criminal procedure code, including its witness list and witness statements, doctor’s notes, pharmacists’ worksheets and notes on DNA testing and analysis, and closed-circuit television recordings from the condominium guardhouse where the alleged sodomy took place. Meanwhile, the Kuala Lumpur hospital report, authorized by three doctors, found “no conclusive clinical findings suggestive of penetration to the anus.”

Anwar was acquitted by the High Court in 2012, based on concerns that DNA evidence brought by the prosecution was tainted. The judge ruled that without the DNA evidence, there was no corroborating evidence other than the word of the accuser and so acquitted Anwar. The government appealed, leading to the recent judgment and five-year sentence.

Yet this is not quite the end of the legal road, since Anwar is free on bail pending his appeal to Malaysia’s highest court. But the accusations and court trials have taken their political toll. The charge itself — sodomy — pejorative even in name, has the effect of discrediting and weakening the political opposition in Malaysia.

Laws that criminalize consensual sex between adults, such as Malaysia’s Criminal Code article 377, contravene broadly accepted international legal standards. The United Nations Human Rights Committee held in 1994 that sodomy laws violate rights to privacy and non-discrimination.

The use of sodomy laws as a political tactic in such a high-profile case is likely to inflict collateral damage on Malaysia’s vulnerable LGBT community. The appeals court’s ruling comes at an especially critical time: A case challenging the constitutionality of Malaysia’s cross-dressing laws (under which transgender women are regularly arrested) is to be heard before the same court this coming May. The government should show that it protects all of its citizens and promptly repeal its sodomy and cross-dressing laws.

Prime Minister Najib has now joined ranks with King Philip and King Henry in resorting to accusations of sodomy to settle political scores. The trial and conviction of Anwar should be seen for what it is: an underhanded move by the ruling party to tarnish and weaken the political opposition without regard to the harm caused to the nation’s judiciary and democratic process.

13 March 2014

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Malaysiakini

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim today demanded that the government disclose who gave permission for a bomoh to conduct rituals inside KLIA to locate the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

“This is KLIA. Who gave permission? Is it MAS, is it Department of Civil Aviation?” Anwar asked in the Dewan Rakyat today while debating the royal address.

He said the presence of the bomoh had made Malaysia a laughing stock of the international community.

“Even Barack Obama (US president) must have been amazed with our stupidity,” he said.

Anwar went on to call the bomoh “Bomoh 1Malaysia”, referring to the 1Malaysia pin the bomoh was wearing.

“He even had a 1Malaysia tag on him. This is bomoh 1Malaysia,” he said, to the laughter of the House.

In a press conference at the Parliament lobby later on, Anwar said that the use of the bomoh was an affront to Islam, and urged Islamic authorities to investigate the matter swiftly.

“Where are those NGOs who made noise about the ‘Allah’ issue? Why are they silent now?” Anwar asked.

Anwar did not mince his words in claiming that Malaysia has never embarrassed itself to this extent in the international stage in its history.

“Our biggest problem is in handling a crisis. There should be a central command,” he said.

However, Anwar was clear that current Acting Transport Minister Hishamuddin Hussein should not be the central spokesperson on the matter.

“He issued a statement, and hours later, DCA gave a different version,” he said.

The bomoh is called Ibrahim Mat Zin, and also calls his own organisation as 1Malaysia Corporate Bomoh.

Meanwhile, a group of Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) officers arrived at the airport at 10.30am to monitor the area, according to The Star Online today.

“This is to avoid people from becoming syirik (deviant)…

“(Anyone doing) anything that is against syariah principles and fatwa will be asked to disperse and if they refuse, we will arrest them under Section 7 of the Syariah Criminal Offences Enactment (Selangor) 1995 for false doctrine,” Jais Sepang district enforcement chief Zaifullah Jaafar Shidek is quoted as saying.

12 March 2014

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By Former US Vice-President Al Gore

10th March 2014

It is extremely disturbing that the government of Malaysia — by continuing to press this case beyond the bounds of reason, let alone the bounds of justice — has used the courts to short-circuit the political process.

The entire world understands with clarity that Anwar Ibrahim was at the verge of running for an office that would have given him serious leverage for advocating greatly needed reform, had he won the election, that his election by the people was likely, and that it was the likely judgment of the electorate that inspired this action by those presently holding power over the administration of “justice.”

The court, by accelerating its calendar, reached its verdict in a rush — early enough to prevent Anwar from running in the election. The calendar of events is itself a contextual indictment of the decision.

By behaving in the manner it did, the court has, of course, invited speculation by reasonable friends of Malaysia in the rest of the world that its independence of judgment and judicial temperament have been influenced by political fear of, and intimidation by, the individuals now in control of executive power in Kuala Lumpur.

The importance of the rule of law should be deemed important for the reputation of Malaysia as a nation within the community of nations.

Moreover, the integrity of Malaysia’s parliament — a crucial asset for the future of Malaysia’s respect in the world community — would be diminished if this decision were to be accepted as “legitimate” by the elected representatives of the people of Malaysia.

In short, future prospects for accomplishing meaningful and necessary change on behalf of the people of Malaysia would be seriously depreciated if the capricious and slanderous imprisonment of an individual who has a universally respected understanding and affinity for the democratic process throughout the world is tolerated.

His pending appeal offers what could be a last chance for Malaysia to make things right. The stakes for Malaysia could hardly be higher. Please do not be deceived. The eyes of the world are focused on what will come next.

11 March 2014

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11 March 2014

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TMI

Hukuman penjara lima tahun yang dijatuhkan Mahkamah Rayuan terhadap Ketua Pembangkang, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim memudahkan Pakatan Rakyat (PR) menawan hati pengundi Melayu, kata calon Pilihan Raya Kecil (PRK) Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN) Kajang, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail.

Dr Wan Azizah dalam temubual eksklusif bersama The Malaysian Insider di Bilik Gerakan PR, di Kajang hari ini berkata, disebabkan keputusan mahkamah itu, pengundi Melayu yang sebelum ini sukar menerima PR mula menunjukkan respon positif.

“Bila mahkamah menjatuhkan hukuman, reaksinya jelas, mereka (pengundi Melayu) merasakan itu ketidakadilan terhadap Anwar,” katanya.

Pengundi di DUN Kajang terdiri daripada kawasan campuran dengan pengundi Melayu membentuk 48% daripada keseluruhan 38,965 pengundi berdaftar.

Pengundi bukan Melayu membentuk sejumlah 51%, dengan pecahan pengundi Cina sebanyak 41%, dan pengundi India 10%.

“Mereka dikejutkan dengan keputusan mahkamah terhadap Anwar. Situasi itu mengejutkan pengundi Melayu,” katanya.

Dr Wan Azizah yang juga isteri kepada Anwar berkata, reaksi yang diterimanya daripada pengundi Melayu selepas mahkamah menjatuhkan hukuman terhadap Anwar atas kesalahan meliwat Saiful Bukhari Azlan sangat berbeza.

“Selepas hukuman dijatuhkan, penerimaannya berbeza. Mereka melihat Anwar dari kacamata beliau sebagai mangsa.

“Mula-mula memang ada suatu gambaran mereka tidak terima saya. Tetapi apabila Anwar pergi tazkirah di surau dan masjid, penerimaan begitu baik,” katanya.

Dr Wan Azizah menggantikan Anwar sebagai calon PRK DUN Kajang berikutan kelayakan Anwar untuk bertanding di kerusi berkenaan terlucut setelah mahkamah menjatuhkan hukuman tersebut.

Pemimpin PR ketika Konvensyen Pakatan Rakyat ke-5 di Shah Alam mendakwa, tindakan Mahkamah Rayuan dan penetapan tarikh pilihan raya kecil di Kajang adalah konspirasi kerajaan Barisan Nasional (BN) dan Suruhanjaya Pilihan Raya (SPR) untuk menggagalkan Anwar bertanding di Kajang.

Dr Wan Azizah berkata, beliau rela dilihat menjadi “bayangan Anwar” kerana melalui perkara itu, cabaran ketidakadilan terhadap pemimpin pembangkang itu akan dapat dirasai rakyat.

“Bila mereka lihat saya mereka akan nampak Anwar. Saya memang mahu mereka lihat itu, ketidakadilan yang berlaku,” katanya.

Presiden PKR, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail akan guna pendekatan keibuan menangani konflik antara ahli dalam parti.Dr Wan Azizah juga mengakui, pada awalnya beliau keberatan apabila mesyuarat biro politik memilihnya menggantikan Anwar untuk bertanding di kerusi yang dikosongkan bekas Ahli Dewan Undangan Negeri (Adun) Kajang, Lee Chin Cheh itu.

“Saya enggan menyertai politik dengan aktif kerana saya rasa apabila Anwar dibebaskan pada 2005 saya sudah buat apa yang saya perlu buat.

“Tetapi apabila ini berlaku, PR berbincang dan keluar nama saya, malah biro politik saya sendiri. Saya berfikir ini sebahagian untuk negara,” katanya.

Dr Wan Azizah berkata, keputusannya menerima cadangan PR itu adalah untuk kelangsungan generasi akan datang.

“Apa yang tinggal daripada hidup saya, saya rasa ini sumbangan untuk generasi akan datang,” katanya.

Semasa tempoh Anwar dipenjarakan atas kesalahan salah guna kuasa, Dr Wan Azizah mengetuai gerakan pembangkang dengan menubuhkan Parti Keadilan Nasional, yang kemudiannya ditukar kepada Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

Beliau juga pernah memenangi kerusi Parlimen Permatang Pauh selama tiga penggal bermula pada 1999, 2004 dan 2008 sebelum melepaskan kerusi berkenaan untuk membolehkan Anwar menyertai semula arena politik sebaik sahaja dibebaskan.

Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail dalam temubual eksklusif dengan The Malaysian Insider. – Gambar The Malaysian Insider oleh Nazir Sufari, 11 Mac, 2014.Dr Wan Azizah juga pernah menjadi ketua pembangkang wanita pertama dalam sejarah negara pada 2008.

Ditanya keupayaan beliau untuk meredakan ketegangan dalaman PKR antara timbalan presiden parti itu Mohamed Azmin Ali dan Menteri Besar Selangor, Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, Dr Wan Azizah berkata, beliau mempunyai “watak keibuan” untuk menyelesaikan perkara itu.

“Saya selalu menjadi individu yang mengamalkan pendekatan lembut . Saya mempunyai watak keibuan untuk menjayakan rekonsiliasi dalam PKR.

“Kami semua ibarat sekeluarga,” katanya.

Dr Wan Azizah akan bertanding satu lawan satu dengan calon BN dari MCA, Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun.

SPR menetapkan 23 Mac sebagai tarikh membuang undi untuk PRK DUN Kajang.

11 March 2014

Pendapat

Pendapat Anda?

The Ides of March[1]

The condemnation and sentencing of Anwar Ibrahim on 6th and 7th of March in the grandiose setting of Istana Kehakiman in Putrajaya were a political act disguised as legal procedure.

With a savagery that reminded one of the brutal stabbing of Julius Caesar, the prosecutor pursued his victim with further vituperation, while the condemned man and several in the audience called out, “Enough, sit down, you have got what you wanted.”

The final act of this trial fiasco displayed openly the malignancy of the forces at work.

The condemnation and sentence had been delivered abruptly and without the explanatory detail which would follow later. Time was running out and the matter must be accomplished without delay.

After delivering the verdict, and without pause, the judge proposed that he would proceed to mitigation pleas. Counsel for the defense protested that a mitigation plea required time to prepare. He was given one hour to do so and the panel of judges retired.

An hour later, Karpal Singh, the defence lawyer, explained the medical problems of his 66 year old client, back injury and heart disease. He asked for a delay of one week for a medical report which would be an essential component of the mitigation plea. However, the judge was urgent he needed to close the case. He was directly challenged and asked whether he denied the relevance of a medical report. Yes, he denied the relevance. Karpal disagreed and refused to enter further pleas. The opportunity to counter the non-existing plea passed to the prosecutor who had well prepared a summary of the most grievous aspects of the case, and of previous cases relating to Anwar. His harangue led to cries of ‘Enough’ from the convicted Anwar and the audience in the public gallery. Several persons, including lawyers in the defence team left the court.

Finally, Karpal played his last card and asked for a delay in execution of the sentence to allow consideration of aspects of the case by the Federal Court. A stay was granted and bail of 10,000 RM imposed to be paid on the following Monday. It was small respite in an act of political savagery which ended the possibility of Anwar’s intended candidacy submission for a Selangor State Assembly by-election on the following Tuesday, and possibly destroys his political career.

The Charge of Sodomy

Whatever opinion one may hold on the complex events which led to the current trial of Anwar, the use of the courts and an antiquated charge to achieve a political aim is unacceptable. The crime of sodomy has long been obsolete in democratic countries. While a forced act of sodomy would of course be an act of criminal aggression, the field of law on which Anwar was challenged was the act of sodomy itself. It is long agreed that the sexual behaviour of the individual is guarded by the right to privacy, and also that sexual orientation is the free right of each person. The criminal charge of sodomy is a survival of British colonial rule which lies dormant in several legal systems of former colonies. Unfortunately, it has found new relevance in Muslim countries[2] which, although they are nominally secular states, add a religious sanction to a crime bypassed by a tolerance which must prevail under democracy. The problem with the criminalization of homosexuality is that it involves emotional stigma and outrage which colours and perturbs legal process. A man may emerge unscathed from a failed charge of murder, but a charge of sodomy is a different matter entirely; the charge itself is an embarrassment making fragile the presumed innocence of the accused. The matter is well left to the give and take of human opinion or to the courts of sharia for those accepting their jurisdiction. The vindictive hounding of Anwar for political motives should not be tolerated on grounds of such inappropriate law.

The Appeal Court of March 6th and 7th

In theory the subject of the Appeal Court against the decision of an earlier appeal court should be limited to the precise technicalities considered suspect in the earlier hearing. But in practice no part of a trial can be excised from general consideration, but unsubstantiated criticism of earlier sections of the trial should not have been tolerated. The prosecutor, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, made capital out of the refusal of Anwar to enter the witness box in the first appeal hearing, implying guilt in exercise of the right to silence by an accused. The day for such an accusation was not the appeal court.

Technical Nature of DNA evidence

The appeal hearing of the 6th and 7th was badgered by the highly technical nature of DNA evidence. Of all those who based their submissions on technical aspects of the DNA evidence, no one, judge, prosecutor or defense attorney had the technical knowledge to do so. Comments on legal aspects of the evidence are matter of the appeal but technical reappraisal of value of the evidence is another matter. At the very least an expert on DNA evidence should have been on standby to answer technical queries on issues which questioned previous evidence. Instead the court was treated to a high speed summary of opinions by Deputy Public Prosecutor Noorin Badaruddin who quoted here and there case histories which could not be assessed by anyone in the court room. During the first trial fully accredited experts gave their assessments and submitted to questioning by prosecution and defense[3]. In the present appeal these witnesses were referred to as “armchair specialists”[4] and their testimony dismissed by name calling. The credentials of these experts had been examined and their testimony accepted in their presence at the earlier trial. Why and by what acceptable legal reasoning was their testimony rejected in their absence and without the compliance of any informed authority?

The Heart of the Matter

The central argument of the prosecution was rejection of the charge of contamination of the DNA samples as presented by the defence. There are three elements to the charge that the samples were contaminated:

  1. The pristine state claimed by the examining chemists of the DNA evidence conflicts with the likelihood of an expected deterioration. There were unexplained delays in the whole process of examining the DNA. First the witness, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who claimed to have been sodomised, waited two days before reporting the event in a government owned hospital. He avoided defecating in this period. However the moist and biologically active anal channel would not have favoured preservation of DNA. Secondly, after the extraction of swab samples from his anus on a Saturday evening, the samples were placed in individually labeled receptacles and placed in an overall plastic container. They were given into the care of a police officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police Jude Blacious Pereira, who was present during the medical examination. Pereira, appointed investigating officer for the case, was instructed to keep the samples in a freezer over the weekend. Ignoring this instruction he left them in his office filing cabinet. Further, although not instructed to do so, he opened the plastic container and relabeled some of the containers. Finally, instead of delivering the samples to a testing laboratory on the Monday morning he did so on Monday evening. The time lapse between the time of the alleged sodomy and examination by the testing laboratory was at least 96 hours. According to expert opinion severe deterioration of the samples would occur under the conditions of storage and length of delay of the sequence. Against the opinion of the expert witnesses referred to earlier the court heard reference to case histories collected by a person having no knowledge of Forensic DNA testing[5].
  2. Apart from the first re-labeling of the samples by Pereira, the examining chemist also re-labeled some samples, casting doubt on the identity of the samples which had supposedly come from different regions of the rectum.
  3. The examining chemist, besides the DNA of the complainant and of Anwar, also detected DNA of another male. Under careful checking this third DNA source was confirmed. If contamination of the samples is excluded what was the origin of this third source? This question was unanswered, putting in doubt the denial of contamination.
  4. The veracity of the two persons involved in provision and custody of the samples is suspect. If Saiful is truthful in denying that he is homosexual, what is the origin of the third DNA source? Besides, in his original testimony he claimed that the act of sodomy was consensual, while later he charged that the act was forced. Being consensual or not is irrelevant to Malaysian law so that this aspect was ignored, but it does throw suspicion on the veracity of the complainant.

Pereira, for his part, has a history of untruthfulness which led to a refusal of the Malaysian Bar Association to accept his membership.

Interpretation of Justice

While the main protagonists, prosecutor Shafee and defending lawyer Karpal, maintained the façade of learned friendship, their antagonism for each other broke through, leading to rebuke from the bench: Presiding judge Balia Yusof Wahi then sternly ordered all parties to behave. But sodomy is a not a charge suitable for legal debate, and it was to be expected that important issues at the basis of legal process would emerge.

The first attack on basic issues came from the prosecution which questioned the notion of reasonable doubt. Shafee pointed out that beyond reasonable doubt does not imply 100 per cent certainty. No human judgment can attain 100 percent certainty but this shortfall of certainty does not constitute reasonable doubt. This led the prosecution to further precisions. Does the admitted opening of the outside plastic bag in which the samples were stored constitute tampering? Not, Shafee held, if the individual bottles holding the samples were not opened. The prosecution based its case on the integrity of these individual bottles.

Next the prosecution questioned why Anwar did not submit to cross examination during his earlier trial, implying guilt to this exercise of the right to silence.

Karpal responded to the issue of reasonable doubt that while beyond reasonable doubt might be sufficient for prosecution, it had another meaning for the protection of innocence. Although no further explanation was given, the likely meaning is that a lesser doubt should be enough to invalidate a case and thus protect the presumption of innocence, than a larger doubt in the case for the prosecution.

Karpal insisted on the expectation of deterioration of a DNA sample kept without the protection of freezing for a total of 96 hours between the sodomy incident and the examining laboratory. It was also incomprehensible that no degradation at all was observed in some samples while in at least one sample some degradation was observed, although all the samples had gone through the same treatment.

To avoid the suspicion of contamination the prosecution must have some explanation of the third party contamination observed.

The defence further queried the sources of the DNA specifically tested, and proposed that separation of the semen cells from non semen cells was not properly carried out.

The prosecution quoted case histories including one which indicated that sperm had survived in a rectum for 130 hours. However without assessment by expert witness the quotation of such examples is meaningless.

Mitigation

Finally, the question of mitigation of sentence was hard fought between prosecution and defence. Karpal Singh emphasized that mitigation is an integral part of a trial. He insisted that there was no necessity to rush the trial. He recalled that sentencing is about the offender, not the offence, and that a medical report was required before sentencing. He declined to proceed with a submission on mitigation.

In his intervention regarding mitigation, the Prosecutor became vociferous on the enormity of the crime, that it had been inflicted on a subordinate by a person in authority. He referred to past convictions of Anwar, finally likening the case to the infamous Profumo case, implying that Anwar’s action was a National Security Issue, subject to a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The excesses of the prosecution’s arguments against mitigation of sentence lead to noisy protest in the court, and the threat of expulsion of protesters by police.

The judges hurriedly imposed a sentence of five years, but allowed suspension of execution in deference to a Federal Court decision.

Reflection

Several times Karpal Singh queried the rush to impose sentence. Of course everyone in the court and throughout Malaysia was aware of the issue at stake. It was necessary to impose a criminal sentence on Anwar and so invalidate his declared candidacy before the 11th March, date of registration for the by-election. The trial was politics in motion, and not a campaign to uphold morality by out of date colonial legislation.

The issue of reasonable doubt adapts badly to the emotive charge of sodomy. Courts in democratic countries have long abandoned legislation against sodomy which was notoriously the cause of blackmail, and the legislation regarding homosexuality was referred to as the blackmailer’s charter. This may well be the case in countries where such legislation is still active. But sodomy has also been a tool of political chicanery, it is a charge unused in ordinary circumstances and cases involving sodomy are most rare.

The length and complexity of the court proceeding on this case, and the persistence of unanswered questions is proof that there are indeed reasonable doubts of guilt.

Malaysia must grow democratically to meet the challenge of modern governance. The impatience of the population is palpable, as is support for Anwar Ibrahim who despite election lying and cheating already heads an opposition enjoying a 53% popular vote. It is predictable that public reaction to this trial will be shown clearly in the coming by-election.

Danthong Breen,

Union for Civil Liberty, Bangkok


[1] The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March. It became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The death of Caesar made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history that marked the transition from the historical period known as the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire

[2] See the recent resurgence of the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria, Uganda.

[3] Charade of Justice, Anwar’s Third Trial, Chapter 8, Pawancheek Maraican, Gerakbudaya Enterprise, Petaling Jaya, 2012.Sodomy II, Chapter 7, Mark Trowell, Mashall Cavendish, Singapore, 2012

[4] New Straits Times, 7th March 2014, remark of Datuk Balia Yusof Wahi, spokesperson of three member bench

[5] There is a famous story in the Sherlock Holmes series of tales “The dog that did not bark” where the famous detective solves a crime by alluding to the mystery of a watchdog which did not bark, implying that the owner of the dog was guilty of the crime. In the Anwar case there is a mystery of the sample deterioration which did not take place, casting doubt on the related history of the samples.

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