Rebuttal to Josh Treviño on Anwar Ibrahim’s Trial

by Azeem Ibrahim
Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School’s International Security Program
August 10, 2010

In Malaysia, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has been put on trial for sodomy. In the main, the Western political establishment is skeptical about the trial, believing it to be a politically motivated attempt to remove the popular opposition leader from the political scene before he can take power. As is the Malaysian public. Only 11 percent believe the charge, and 88 percent think it’s a political conspiracy.

Public Relations professional Joshua Treviño has been on “attack-Anwar” mode lately, authoring several pieces in recent months critiquing Anwar and questioning his credibility in the West. In his most recent piece, Treviño doesn’t come right out and say that the trial is genuine, but he does try to give a few reasons as to why we should question the conventional wisdom that the trial is merely a political maneuver to get rid of Anwar. Those reasons fall short. Let us look at them one by one.

In the article Treviño argues that Anwar’s relative popularity in the West is based on the mistaken impression that he shares many of the West’s political values.

But Anwar is popular in the West because he has consistently called for democracy, good governance, accountability, and dialogue of civilizations. Compare this to the current Prime Minister, or any of his predecessors, who have said relatively little about such things in Malaysia and done even less to reform a system saddled with endemic corruption.

What’s more, if Treviño really had a good reason to believe that Anwar did not support such values, he would surely have used his article to say so. The fact that he did not take the opportunity implies that he knows that compared to his predecessor, Anwar does in fact share many of the West’s political values.

If we look at the specifics of the trial, there are more reasons to be skeptical of Treviño’s argument.

Firstly, he accuses the Western media of not taking the substantive accusations against Anwar seriously. He is accused of sodomy – a crime in Malaysia – with Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a young former political aide.

It is true that most Western media have not taken the accusations too seriously. There are three good reasons for this.

The first is that the Malaysian government has falsely accused Anwar of sodomy to remove him from the political scene before. In 2000, after feuding with Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, Anwar was publicly denounced by the Prime Minister as a homosexual, tried, and sentenced to fifteen years in prison – a punishment which under Malaysia law means he could not engage in political activities for five years after the end of his sentence. His accusers later recanted their accusations, saying that they had been coerced into making them. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both expressed doubts that he got a fair trial. And indeed, the year after Mahathir left office, Malaysia’s highest court overturned the conviction, citing contradictions in the prosecution’s case. Treviño concedes that the first trial was indeed a politically motivated plot by the government to get rid of Anwar. He also concedes that the reason most Western media are not taking the accusations seriously “lies in the circumstances of Anwar’s first trial.”

It certainly seems that way. This time, when Anwar had reemerged from the political wilderness as popular opposition leader and potentially the next Prime Minister of Malaysia, he was accused of sodomy again.

The second reason why the Western media have not taken the accusations too seriously is lack of evidence. At the moment, it is the word of the aide against the word of Anwar. Not only is there no substantial evidence in the public domain to back up the accuser’s case, there are also medical reports in the public domain, which refute the accuser’s claims.

The third reason is that the trial is being held amidst great secrecy, for no good reason. Today, over six months into the trial, Anwar Ibrahim’s defense team is still denied access to documents, forensic reports, and CCTV recordings held by the prosecution. One has to ask why, if the government is really so confident of its case, it would want the trial to be subject to so little scrutiny.

Another reason to think that the trial is politically motivated is that the accusers cannot get their story straight about what Anwar did wrong. Treviño says that although Anwar “is on trial for violation of Malaysian anti-sodomy law, this is effectively ancillary to his alleged crime: a sexual assault.”

Treviño does not explain why Anwar is not being charged for the main crime he is being accused of. He does not explain why, if the putative encounter was forced, medical reports conducted only forty-eight hours afterwards showed no signs of an assault. He does not explain why, if it was forced, Anwar – a man who can barely walk up the stairs because of the injuries he sustained in prison – could have forced himself on a man of twenty-three years. And he does not explain, given that the charges are for consensual sex, why it is not both individuals on trial to be consistent with Malaysian laws. In any attempt to defend the fairness of the judicial process, these are serious omissions.

Treviño argues that we cannot assume that the trial is a political plot because we are no longer in the Mahathir era (he does concede that the marginalization of Mahathir doesn’t prove that Anwar’s present trial is legitimate). Surely though, the trial and the way it has been conducted raises questions about whether the spirit of Mahathir has survived his Premiership.

The real point, though, is that it is not about Mahathir — it is about the system as a whole. Mahathir may be gone, but his party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), is still in power, and the system even under Prime Minister Najib is generally unchanged. UMNO is primarily concerned with survival, and Anwar is viewed as the biggest threat to that survival. As a result, none of the democratizing reforms which Malaysia needs have been undertaken. The judiciary remains compromised, the press is shackled (three opposition newspapers were suspended in July, one was reinstated with restrictions), and the opposition, in general, faces a repressive environment including the looming specter of detention without trial under the Internal Security Act. This trial is just the latest incarnation of those facts.

Finally, Treviño argues that if the Malaysian government did want to marginalize Anwar, they would not do it like this, both because Anwar emerged from prison more popular last time, and because they would not want to draw attention to him. Treviño suggests that in fact, the current government probably just prefers that Anwar would go away.

On this, I think Treviño is probably spot on. As a popular opposition leader and main threat to their supremacy, they probably do want him to go away. And it looks very much like they have found a way to do it: trying to get him imprisoned on a charge of sodomy. Like last time.

Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and Chairman and CEO of Ibrahim Associates.

  1. #1 by Cinapek on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 - 1:57 pm

    I do not need a trial or any other arguments to convince me this is a frame up. The very simple fact that the “victim”, a strong well built young man of 23, claimed it was non consensual when he was sodomised by a 62 year old man with a bad back, and eight times too at that, defies logic and is really insulting our intelligence.

  2. #2 by baochingtian on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 - 3:26 pm

    “Cry Freedom” showing now Astro P412.
    Similar scenario as in bolehland.

  3. #3 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 - 3:31 pm

    Those who keep questioning Anwar real intention, like Joshua Trevino don’t get it really or they don’t want people to understand. Anwar is a means to an end and not the other way round. The end being a more democratic system, check-balance in systems etc. He is important because he is the best means to that end. It does not matter if Anwar can betray it, his option to betray is very very limited. If his betrayal is even significant, the entire reform movement will steamroll over him. Look at Ronnie Liu, the frogs or even Hindraf or anyone that try to throw a spanner into the main reform movement – they all get crushed. Look at LGE, he has not been brilliant but he stuck to the agenda 100% and is on TOP dog around.

  4. #4 by ablastine on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 - 3:56 pm

    Whilst there are thousands upon thousands of homosexuals who have sodomy regularly, consensual or otherwise, nobody but only Anwar has been charged under this stupid law. Do you really need to be a genius to realise that this is nothing but selective prosecution. It really shows that Anwar is so squeaky clean that they cannot find anything more appropriate like corruption to pin him down. They desperately want him out of the picture.

  5. #5 by undertaker888 on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 - 4:38 pm

    this is the voice recording when mr. FOS (full of sh!t) alledgely got sodomised. it was recently discovered together with TBH note…here goes…

    ..ehh..jangan….jangan…ehh…jangan…jangan berhenti…annas…ehh sorry silap…ehh anwar

  6. #6 by feruz on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 - 4:45 pm

    This country is heading downwards at steep angle and high-speed. Still funny that there are still lot of idiots ‘sings’ of his/her high regards on Najib/and wife, Hishamuddin, Nazri which I see them no more than the ’40 Thieves’.

    Despite buying submarine that cannot submerge, the missiles 3 times the cost price, the murder of Al-Tantuya-(of all you know the perperators (Sirul Azhar) could be your neighbour – the public has never seen his face, he could be in Sungai Buloh or maybe enjoying himself somewhere, the questionable reason of sugar price hike, and hundreds more.

    This is the problem when we let the country run by a bunch of thieves. Take them down. I guess people like Anwar, Guan Eng, Karpal, Nik Aziz has the right attitude to lead us. Go Bro

  7. #7 by monsterball on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 - 4:49 pm

    We have plenty so call professional political bloggers like Rocky…Big Dog….that Kickdefella…Susan Loone.
    Then you have the special man….Raja Petra Kamaruddin…or RPK.
    Go and view all..and you will note..guys like Rocky and Big Dog who works for he government keep putting out posts to praise UMNO B or insult PR…especially LKS and Anwar.
    I repeat..these are political bloggers not Parlimentarian bloggers… LKS..or Chua Soi Lek. Know thew differences.
    Now…who is this Joshua Trevino…compared to Al Gore and few well established politicians all over the world that do not speak with double meanings and go straight to the point… supporting Anwar and why.
    Joshua Trevino seems to bring his readers to a position to think and ponder over Anwar’s case.
    He totally ignore the reputations of Najib.
    You see…if you want to talk real justice and fairness…you need to know the accuser and the defender….political backgrounds and reputations.
    Granted both have bad past reputations…but like all…we need to choose between the two devils…and so we did…as Anwar have shown what he is now…being released from prison….consistent and daily getting more and more respects and trusts….by Malaysians.
    Now focus on Najib…and his reputations and character. Does anyone need to give details?
    On this Joshua Trevino comments…fire at will and enjoy.

  8. #8 by k1980 on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 - 5:18 pm

    Politics in Capitol Hill is controlled by political lobbies, which will enhance whatever cause as long as the $$$ come flowing into them. Just pay Joshua Trevino enough $$$ and he will claim that Ahmedinejad is a Jewish spy and that Obama was born in Kenya

  9. #9 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 12 August 2010 - 6:08 am

    We’re reading here Azeem Ibrahim’s rebuttal of Josh Trevino on Anwar Sodomy trials without first hand reading of what Josh Trevino actually wrote.

    Here’s link to Joshua Treviño’s Article “ What Anwar’s Trial Really Means” published in Huffington Post Aug 5th 2010

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 12 August 2010 - 7:06 am

    Joshua Trevinon’s main assumption of the difference Sodomy I trial during Dr Mahathir’s time and present Sodomy II is that in the present case Saiful is victim of Sexual Assault.

    Trevinon says in Sodomy I Anwar is tried for sodomy (consensual) which is no longer a crime in western societies. Hence Sodomy I is indeed morally unacceptable (from western liberal perspectives), and even shocking — and “were this the beginning and the end of the charges against Anwar Ibrahim, the media campaign against his prosecution would be on solid ground.” Thn Trevino points out the differentiating factor in Sodomy II trial – “First and foremost, as noted, is the assault angle. Whereas the Mahathir-era prosecution jailed Anwar and his alleged sexual partners, there is no legal pursuit of Saiful Bukhari. The young man alleging Anwar’s coercion is treated like any victim of sexual assault in any ordinary, developed country.“ “The truth is somewhat more nuanced. Though Anwar Ibrahim is on trial for violation of Malaysian anti-sodomy law, this is effectively ancillary to his alleged crime: a sexual assault upon one Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan. Saiful has told police and prosecutors that the opposition leader, for whom he then worked, coerced him into a sexual encounter in early 2008. It is this nonconsensual activity, not sodomy per se, that is now at the heart of the trial of Anwar Ibrahim.” (Unquote)

    Trevinon’s observations are factually incorrect because even in Sodomy I trial complainant Azizan, the driver, complained to Dr mahathir personally that he was coerced.

    Besides Trevino’s observations also ignore the following key points:

    It is only Saiful alone who says he was forced into sodomy ie a victim of non consensual sexual assault act. The Malaysian prosecutors that purport to seek justice/redress for him and wider society have however proceeded their charge against Anwar based on “consensual” sodomy (probably because circumstantial evidence other than what Saiful says support that “consensual” theory).

    No where have I seen such incongruity and discrepacy of an accused being charged by prosectors in Trial II for doing some ‘consensual’ act where the victim and chief witness of the alleged offence says otherwise in court as well as public statements that he was ‘forced’ and coerced into the act.

    This simply suggests that the evidence tendered does not support and prove the charge and if there’s such a discrepacy it goes to the root of the witness’s credibility by which the proper inference and benefit of doubt should be drawn and given in favour of the person accused.

    In Trevinon’s western jurisdictions sexual assault and anal rape is customary sought to be proven by evidence of penetration which first medical reports did not support, instead we’re putting cart before horse by seeking blakang way to prove penetration by existence of semen! In Trevinon’s western jurisdictions this case would not have been proceeded upon at the onset much less sustainable for months forward! And in Trevinon’s western jurisdictions it would have been odd that in spite of sodomy being no longer a crime (de facto if not dejure), no one else but an opposition leader alone is prosecuted for such an offence existing “dejure” in the penal; books.

    Trevino’s observations that “the young man (Saiful) alleging Anwar’s coercion is treated like any victim of sexual assault in any ordinary, developed country is an equally nuanced understatement by not highlighting that it would be rare for an alleged victim of sexual assault in any ordinary developed country to have personally visited and seen the leader of the ruling coalition for some scholarship before he ‘coincidentally’ revealed publicly that he was assaulted by the leader of the Opposition!

    I am not defending Anwar for reasons of what he stands for in politics here or even prejudging whether he is actually a closet sodomite or not but merely stating the obvious factual errors of Trevino’s arguments and irregularities of the case/charge against Anwar in Sodomy II.

  11. #11 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 12 August 2010 - 7:39 am

    In an earlier article “Anwar in Bad Decline” by Joshua S. Treviño AIDC editor on July 10, 2010 Trevino has also vehemently sought to disabue and demystify Westerners including Western Media’s positive image of Anwar as a Malaysian democratic icon by pointing out that:-
    · Anwar by “predictable tactic of Islamic-world demagogues” embarrassed those Western and Jewish friends and mentors with his recent descent into crass anti-Semitism including his conspiracy theory that he had “evidence proving that the [Malaysian] government is backing the Jewish lobby in the US and some parties inside Israel; Israeli intelligence personnel infiltrated the Police IT unit.”
    · The proximate cause of Anwar Ibrahim’s invocation of anti-Semitic tropes is his own flagging political fortune including being implicated in yet another prosecution for sodomy.”
    · “When (Jewish) B’nai B’rith International issued a public call for U.S. policymakers and elected officials to shun Anwar Ibrahim, it’s no further surprise that Anwar promptly blamed it on Jewish influence — technically correct, for once — and then flew to Washington, D.C., to conduct damage control”.
    · “Anwar … spent a lot of time offering explanations to old friends, not to mention House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman and a Jewish leader or two. He said he regretted using terms such as “Zionist aggression,” which are common coin for demagogues like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “Why do I need to use it if it causes so much misunderstanding?” he said. “I need to be more careful.” That’s one way to put it. Just a bit of carelessness, and suddenly you find you’ve spent months invoking anti-Semitic imagery in public appearances all across a southeast Asian nation. Who hasn’t been there?”
    · WaPo’s Diehl also quotes longtime Anwar associate Paul Wolfowitz as saying, “What Anwar did was wrong, but considering that he’s literally fighting for his life … one should cut him some slack.”… Well, it’s a curious argument that danger of any sort somehow demands, or justifies, plain Jew-baiting. (Interesting and possibly explanatory: when Wolfowitz’s paramour Shaha Ali Riza had to leave the World Bank, she eventually landed at the Foundation for the Future, then headed by none other than Anwar Ibrahim.)”
    · “The D.C. consensus on Anwar, following his anti-Semitic antics, following B’nai B’rith’s declaration, and following his fence-mending visit, is aptly summed up by Jay Nordlinger at NRO: “[I]t helps that Ibrahim has been repentant, at least in talking to Americans. And, in Malaysia, he is about as good as it gets. We shouldn’t hold our breath for anyone better.”
    · “On a moral level, American policy doesn’t have to choose the lesser of two evils in Malaysia: our relations with that country, and its strategic role, are such that we are under no compulsion to affiliate ourselves with a known purveyor of anti-Semitism. On a pragmatic level, the fact is that the man whom Anwar seeks to replace, Prime Minister Najib Razak, is far more friendly to American policy goals than is Anwar himself. (We’ll leave aside here that Anwar’s opposition-coalition partner is the Islamist PAS, which solicited volunteers for the Taliban after 9/11.) Anwar explicitly referred to Najib’s amenability to American policy goals in an ill-advised conversation with an AFP reporter during his D.C. trip, in which he quipped, “[W]e have a prime minister coming here and agreeing with whatever Obama wants.” Accepting that characterization for the sake of argument, that’s pretty much exactly what we’d hope for in a foreign leader.”

  12. #12 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 12 August 2010 - 8:50 am

    Anwar should wake up to reality that present admin is a new nesmesis that could use its abundant resources including services of APCO at RM60 million cost to politically counter him.
    It is but a two pronged pincer attack:
    1. Sodomy II Trial.prosecution. it makes Anwar panick by making him feel that he is definitely headed for the slammer (jail).

    2. Improve public relations with the US by supporting American policy goals eg agreeing to adopt stricter import and export controls to prevent our country from being used as a transshipment point for smuggled nuclear materials and technology; and that Malaysia will allow some checks on the flow of capital from Iran. By getting US on his side it would mute objections of the Superpower in respect of Sodomy Trial II. US was vehement in its support of Anwar in earlier Sodomy I because Dr Mahathir’s anti-Semitic and often anti US and Western rhetoric was not exactly a winning and endearing factor.
    Looking at 1. and 2. obviously made Anwar think again,. He looked at the fate of jailed (house arrest) of Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and must have asked, what could western allies and media do for her to extricate her? So far nothing much. If nothing much why not try the other way to galvanise the support of local masses?
    So like his old nemesis (TDM)’s tactic, he went all out to mobilize support of Muslim masses by using Jews as bogey. He came out with all kinds of conspiracy theory that he had “evidence proving that the [Malaysian] government is backing the Jewish lobby in the US, the link of APCO with Israelis, co-relation of 1 Malaysia and 1 Israel, and even infiltration by Israeli intelligence personnel into PDRM’s IT unit/system etc.
    Which is not very smart because with APCO’s connections and his profile, this kind of talk – associated by Western audience as that of Islamic-world demagogue than modern Islamic democrat – is sure to be reported back and embarrass his international supporters and more importantly the US government with traditional Jewish lobby links.
    When (Jewish) B’nai B’rith International issued a public call for U.S. policymakers and elected officials to shun Anwar Ibrahim, DSAI panicked and rushed over to offer explanations to old friends, not to mention House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman that he regretted using terms such as “Zionist aggression,” and conceded he needed to be more careful.

  13. #13 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 12 August 2010 - 9:34 am

    Continuing from #12

    But it’s too late to save his image. One cannot pose as a liberal democrat – and has all along been supported as such – and when convenient or expedient make about-face turn around to bash Jews! They supported you because in their perception you stood for political principle and not political expedience. Of course DSAI managed to do some damage control. His close associate Paul Wolfowitz could apologise for him, “What Anwar did was wrong, but considering that he’s literally fighting for his life … one should cut him some slack.”
    Slack or no slack the mystique is gone for many others!
    In that sense the current Administration’s pincer movement has in combination been effective in procuring the desired results of making DSAI panick, make mistakes and forfeit much of his international support. Then with guys like Josh Treviño writing articles after articles against Anwar in international arena, the situation only gets better (for BN).
    The problem with Anwar is that he shoots his own feet. Anwar’s (sometimes) cavalier attitude towards certain principles and his flexible application of them in situational way might well cause his own down fall. Eg during Pak Lah’s time he said that at least 30 parliamentarians principally from Fixed deposit States were willing to cross over to the Pakatan Rakyat. Not only was it cakap tak serupa bikin (that he accused of Pak Lah) – on top of that by his open endorsement of cross over as a way for political contestation, he forfeited his right to moral indignation when his rival put his words into action in Perak and procured crossovers to cause the fall of the Perak State Assembly!

    Since the time of his fall from grace during TDM’ administration he has won widespread public sympathy and empathy domestic as well as abroad precisely because he stood (as perceived) to be a symbol of steadfast principle with a moral compass of standing for, and taking personal sacrifices, including being punched up in order that what is right against that which is wrong may be upheld, the interest of the common men against the government apparatus of power, the liberty and the importance of the individual against the race and religious demagoguery and extremism.
    However by his situational application of what is principled or not, he has more than once compromised his own moral cause and had offered plenty of ammunitions to his political opponents and their PR consultants to debunk any positive impressions of him which have been his political asset.

    Herein lies Pakatan Rakyat’s – and the collective Malaysian Dilemma that has to be confronted and cannot be swept under the carpet. So many Malaysians’ hopes are pinned on PR led my him, to bring about a regime change. There is no credible and clear 2nd echelon leaders within PR acceptable to all to immediately take over and lead in his absence. The BN’s two pronged pincer attack is effective in procuring the desired result of exposing this most gaping chink in PR’s armour.

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