Thursday, August 5, 2010

Anwar Ibrahim's US allies hit out at sodomy trial

Malaysia's charming opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently on trial for sodomy for the second time, regularly travels overseas and has made some very influential friends over the years.

In a joint editorial in today's Wall Street Journal, former US vice president Al Gore and former deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz insist that the sodomy charges against Anwar are "trumped up" and call on the US government to pressure the Malaysian authorities to end the trial.

Like the charges 10 years earlier, the timing of these new charges carries the strong odor of political manipulation. And, if anything, the case against Mr. Anwar this time is even less credible and the violations of due process are even more egregious.

While Anwar Ibrahim is on trial before the state, the state is on trial before its people and the world. If he were to be convicted, the whole of Malaysia's political life and its standing in the world would be damaged. And for what gain?

It is not surprising that either of these men is speaking out in defence of Anwar. Both Gore and Wolfowitz have supported Anwar for years, with Gore famously causing a stink at an APEC meeting in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 when he publicly backed the Reformasi movement that Anwar was leading against then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. (Wolfowitz penned this Time magazine portrait of Anwar last year).

But the fact that these two American politicians from opposite ends of the political spectrum have spoken out as one in such a high profile forum is likely to raise the profile of the Anwar case in the US and raise the political temperature in Malaysia.

Malaysian blogs and online news sites have taken the story up very swiftly indeed. It will be interesting to see if prime minister Najib Razak, who has been carefully cultivating his international image with the help of PR firm APCO Worldwide, feels the need to respond.

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