As Malaysia prosecutes an opposition leader, the
U.S. is silent
Wednesday, May 19, 2010; A18
ATRIAL that could determine whether one of Asia’s fast-developing countries evolves into a
democracy has been making lurid headlines this month around the region. Anwar Ibrahim, the
opposition leader in Malaysia and one of the foremost advocates of political freedom in the Muslim
by up to 20 years in prison. That Mr. Anwar would be prosecuted on this charge is itself a human
rights violation. But the testimony in the case is also revealing a blatant abuse of power by a man the
Obama administration has been courting: Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.
Mr. Anwar, a 62-year-old married father of six, heads an opposition coalition that for the past two
years has been chipping away at the quasi-authoritarian regime that has governed Malaysia since
independence in 1957. He has a chance of defeating Mr. Najib in the next general election — and
transforming the country. So it’s been more than a little suspicious to see the testimony of his chief
accuser, a 25-year-old man who claims that he had sex with Mr. Anwar in June 2008. Two days
before the alleged encounter, the man said, he met with Mr. Najib; the next day he phoned the
national police chief. Before filing his complaint, he consulted with a close friend of Mr. Najib’s
wife. When the accuser finally stepped forward, two days after the supposed sex, doctors could find
no evidence of sodomy.
Mr. Anwar has been in this situation before. In 1998, when his reformist ideas challenged then-Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad, he was prosecuted on sodomy charges and imprisoned for six years —
until a court ruled that the testimony against him had been coerced. Since then he has become a
leading advocate of democratic reform as an antidote to Islamic extremism. The success of his multiethnic
coalition could decisively push Malaysia into the democratic camp with neighboring
Indonesia at a time when China’s authoritarian system threatens to become a regional model.
In short, Mr. Anwar is a natural ally of the United States — which is why it is odd that the Obama
administration has all but ignored his case. While the previous sodomy conviction was condemned
by senior Clinton administration officials, including Vice President Al Gore, the State Department
has said nothing publicly about this trial. Nor did the White House mention it when
met with Mr. Najib in Washington
press as a U.S. endorsement. In fact, the administration seems to find Mr. Najib useful; he’s been
helpful on issues such as nuclear proliferation, Iran and Afghanistan. But failing to protest his ugly
persecution of Mr. Anwar is both shameful and shortsighted.
stands accused of consensual homosexual sodomy, which in his country is a crime punishablePresident Obamalast month — an event hailed by Kuala Lumpur’s pro-government