COMMENT Many Malaysians have commented on the speed with which the government responded to the Federal Court's verdict last Tuesday, in which the jurists found Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, guilty of sodomy and sentenced him to five years in prison.
Less than 20 minutes after the chief justice announced the court's decision, an official government statement was sent to the media, both Malaysian and international. For a government whose usual response is either "elegant silence" or to send out short and callous "tweets" about important and highly-charged topics (like the fate of the victims in the Malaysia Airlines crashes), this was indeed remarkable.
In its "defence", the government said that it had prepared two different statements, depending on which way the verdict went. We did the same thing when I was in the US government, so I will accept the government's explanation at face value. But that does not excuse the content of the government's statement, which was seriously flawed.
Let's take a look at the government's claims. First came the assertion that:
"The judges will have reached their verdict only after considering all the evidence in a balanced and objective manner. Malaysia has an independent judiciary, and there have been many rulings against senior government figures."
But does the world believe that Malaysia has an independent judiciary, and that the court was balanced and objective?
The court's decision was immediately criticised by the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Germany, and Switzerland, among others, as well as the European Union.
The embassies and high commissions of these countries sent observers to cover Anwar's trials over the past many years. They all concluded that the verdict raised major questions about the independence of the Malaysian judiciary.
Likewise, respected international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Federation for Human Rights said the same thing.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) also condemned the court's verdict.
Especially telling were the comments of Mark Trowell (left), a Queen’s Counsel who represented the IPU, LAWASIA, and the Law Council of Australia. He said the decision of the Federal Court "was unconvincing and lacked a detailed analysis of the facts."
Further blasting the court, he said that "in reaching these conclusions, the court rejected or ignored the evidence that raised serious doubts about the reliability of so-called independence evidence and the credibility of the complainant."
In the most damning statement of all, Trowell said, "If the court had proper regard to the facts and the law, Anwar Ibrahim should never have been convicted."
As for the ICJ, it said, "Anwar Ibrahim should never have been investigated, charged with, tried, let alone convicted of and sentenced for such charges."
World press, too, speaks out
Some of the most prestigious publications in the world, such as theWashington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist also have spoken out.
The Washington Post wrote in an editorial, "The criminal case used to imprison Mr Anwar, who has been one of the foremost advocates of liberal democracy in the Muslim world, was as morally reprehensible as it was farcical...
“The case against him was thin enough to be dismissed by a court in 2012. That Mr Najib's government managed to have that decision reversed by an appeals court and upheld by the Supreme Court demonstrated only that Malaysia still lacks an independent judiciary."
Calling the verdict ‘Malaysia's Anwar shame,’ the Wall Street Journal said, "Umno's decades-long vendetta against Mr Anwar has brought discredit on Malaysia's government and political culture. It is likely to accelerate the ruling party's loss of support from a maturing population repulsed by such dirty tricks. Prime Minister Najib Razak's failure to call an end to this farce is a stain on his legacy."
In describing the verdict, Murray Hiebert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, which normally is sympathetic towards Malaysia, told a German television network that "it's pretty much a travesty of justice and an attempt to sideline an opposition politician who has been challenging the ruling party in recent years."
Josh Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations, without doubt the most prestigious foreign policy institute in the United States, tweeted that "any belief in Najib Razak as some kind of reformer should now be fully and totally extinguished."
And Dan Slater, a Southeast Asia specialist at the University of Chicago, told the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper in Canada that when the government decided to appeal Anwar's acquittal in the High Court, the government's actions became "nothing better than a witch-hunt."
Fabrication of evidence
So here's a question for the public relations masters in Putrajaya.
You can claim that "Malaysia's judiciary is independent" until you are blue in the face. But can you name one foreign government, one international human rights organisation, one international newspaper, one foreign think-tank, or one overseas academic who agrees with the decision - and who concurs with your assertion that the verdict was the just conclusion of an independent judiciary?
I don't think so.
But I am also sure that you are now coming up with more multi-million dollar proposals for the government to try and sway world opinion. Save your money. Remember all the wasted dollars you spent on Jack Abramoff, Apco, FBC Media, and Paul Stadlen. They all failed totally to achieve their paid objectives.
The government's press release then went on to say:
"The police report against Anwar Ibrahim was brought by a private individual - Anwar's employee and personal assistant - not by the government. As the victim of a serious sexual assault, he had every right to have his case heard in court."
Yes, it is true that the initial police report was filed by Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, but only after he had met with Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor, as well as the infamous police official from Sodomy I, Mohd Rodwan Mohd Yusof.
We know about Najib and Rosmah, but just to remind everyone about Rodwan - according to aMalaysiakinireport in 2008, in the 1998-1999 trials, Anwar experienced the phenomenon of fabrication of DNA evidence.
We had senior assistant commissioner (SAC) Rodwan illegally removing DNA samples from forensic custody. In cross-examination of the prosecution's witnesses, it was exposed that DNA taken from blood samples was planted on the infamous mattress.
When confronted with this fact, the prosecution amended its charge and persuaded the late judge, Augustine Paul (who was later promoted to the Federal Court), to expunge the entire DNA evidence from the record, preventing Anwar Ibrahim's lawyers from responding.
Back to the present.
Even after Saiful, a college dropout, met with the then deputy prime minister and filed the police report, it was up to the government to decide whether to file charges against Anwar. So from that moment forward, it was the government's case, not Saiful's.
And when Anwar was acquitted, it was the government that decided to file the appeal, not Saiful. At that point, it was clear, as Professor Slater of the University of Chicago said, that the government was on a "witch-hunt". They were once again determined to remove Anwar as a force in Malaysian politics.
Saiful as the victim?
The government's press release also calls Saiful "the victim of a serious sexual assault."
But wait a minute - wasn't the charge "consensual sex"? And didn't attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail just say that the reason Saiful also was not charged for consensual sex was because he had turned state's witness and agreed to testify against Anwar?
So if it was consensual, why does the Prime Minister's Office call Saiful a "victim" of sexual assault?
If you say that Saiful (right) was assaulted, then we are back to square one - the government's original and totally unbelievable claim - that a young, strong, strapping man was raped time and time again by someone who was 40 years older than he was - but somehow was never able to escape.
Finally, as I wrote this, I saw that the Federal Court's written judgment has now been released. They said that the testimony of distinguished DNA experts like Dr Brian McDonald and Dr David D Wells was not credible.
But they said that Saiful was a credible witness. They chose Saiful over these distinguished Australian academics.
And then I remembered Saiful's alleged affair with the deputy public prosecutor during the course of the trial.
When others talked about Saiful's affair with the government prosecutor, they asked, did it compromise the government? Did they share legal information during their pillow talk?
I see it in a different way.
I think about the fact that Saiful was engaged to another woman at that time. He had promised to marry this young woman. And yet he betrayed her and engaged in an affair with another woman, who was on the prosecuting team.
To betray your fiancée, the woman you promised to share your life with, the woman you said you loved and promised to marry, means that you are a liar and a cheat. It means that you are deceptive and your words cannot be relied on.
And Saiful was doing this - lying and cheating - at the exact moment the trial was being conducted, when he was testifying. And yet the Federal Court called this liar and this cheat a "credible witness."
Is it any wonder the world doesn't believe a word that the Malaysian public relations machine and the Malaysian courts are spitting out these days?
JOHN R MALOTT is former United States ambassador to Malaysia.