Malaysian Leader’s Trial Begins
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ A High Court judge Monday began the trial Malaysia’s most famous dissident Anwar Ibrahim, who was once Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s heir apparent.
Armed policemen were deployed outside the federal courthouse Monday in Malaysia’s capital city ahead of the start of the trial.
Riot police armed with assault rifles braced for new protests around the courthouse and elsewhere in the city. Demonstrations have been held regularly since Anwar’s arrest on Sept. 20.
Anwar’s family members attended the trial. More than 200 reporters and international observers hoping to watch the legal proceedings crowded outside the courtroom in Kuala Lumpur early Monday.
London-based Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch and the Indonesian Bar Association were among the groups which sent representatives to observe the trial.
``We will totally monitor Anwar’s trial to examine the nature and basis of evidence brought against and to assess the proceedings in light of international standards on fair trial,″ said Mark Daly of Amnesty International.
Judge Augustine Paul was scheduled to hear arguments about four counts of corruption and one count of sodomy which have been lodged against Anwar. A separate trial is expected for a separate charge of abuse of power and four more counts of illegal sex. Anwar, 51, has denied all the charges.
The former No. 2 leader could be jailed for a maximum of 14 years for each of the corruption charges linked to his alleged abuse of power as Malaysia’s deputy prime minister from 1993 until his dismissal on Sept. 2.
Each illegal sex charge is punishable with 20 years in jail and whipping.
The prosecution plans to cite testimony from 52 witnesses in the first round of the hearing, which was scheduled to last until Nov. 14. At that time, the court will break for more than one week as Malaysia plays host to a meeting of 20 world leaders for an Asia-Pacific trade forum.
The widespread international attention on the case and its huge implications for Malaysian politics forced authorities to shift the hearing from the High Court building to a large room in the adjacent federal courthouse.
Anwar’s dismissal and his arrest has led to unprecedented public demonstrations against Mahathir and focused attention on the issues of political dissent, freedom of expression and human rights in Malaysia.
Although the government has said it would not accord special privileges to international jurists and human rights observers, dozens flew into Kuala Lumpur for the trial.
``We are here just to ensure due process.″ said Frank Slevin of Justice International, a British group of jurists.
In Melbourne, Australia, a prominent lawyers’ group urged the government to guarantee a fair trial for Anwar. The Law Council of Australia also called on the government not to impede the work of international observers attending the trial.
The judge had initially ruled that the trial would be conducted in English because of the intense interest abroad. But last week, the chief justice ordered the trial to be conducted in Bhasa, the language of majority Malays.
When Anwar was arrested, thrown in jail and allegedly roughed up by police, many began to question the impartiality of the charges brought against him and started to rally to Anwar’s side.
Last weekend, a demonstration in the capital turned into a full-scale riot, the first in Malaysia in nearly three decades.
Mahathir, 72, who has ruled Malaysia for 17 years, says he fired his deputy prime minister on moral grounds because homosexual acts are illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia.