Saturday, August 9, 2008

Qantas cancels overseas check-ups

(The Sydney Morning Herald) - QANTAS has shelved plans to send two 737 planes to Malaysia for heavy maintenance checks.

The decision was made while the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) investigated the airline over a series of incidents in recent weeks, including the emergency landing of a Melbourne-bound jumbo in Manila when a two-metre by four-metre hole was blown in its fuselage.

The airline faced another maintenance problem yesterday. Flight QF107 was prevented from flying to Los Angeles because a screw needed to be replaced.

The airline's decision to send its 737s to Malaysia for maintenance checks has come under intense scrutiny after the first plane sent there two months ago came back with 95 defects. It was grounded in Melbourne on Thursday because of noise from an air-conditioning fault.

Malaysia Airlines issued a statement yesterday defending its checks and calling Australian reports on defects unsubstantiated.

Two other planes were earmarked for heavy "C" checks - a regular procedure lasting more than a week, in which engineers have to check most of the airplane's parts - in Malaysia.

But the airline's monthly maintenance schedule put out last week showed the planes were rescheduled to be checked at Tullamarine in Melbourne.

As a result, checks on two other planes that were to take place at Tullamarine will now take place at Avalon in Victoria, and two planes that were to be checked at Avalon will be sent to a third party, John Holland Aviation Services, in Tullamarine.

"We don't know why it changed, but it's likely tied to the fact that CASA are yet to finish their investigation [into maintenance procedures]," a source said.

The executive general manager of engineering at Qantas, David Cox, confirmed the maintenance work will now be done in Australia. "We only have overflow heavy maintenance work undertaken overseas," he said. "We explored options for checks on two 737-400 aircraft. Once space became available at our Tullamarine facility, the decision was taken to have the work done there."

A CASA spokesman said the decision was made by the airline and was not the result of an order made by the authority. He confirmed that the airline has regulatory approval to conduct maintenance checks at the Malaysian base but investigations into the aircraft that returned from that facility earlier this year were continuing.

"It's too early to say whether [the aircraft's grounding in Melbourne] was related to the maintenance check in Malaysia or not," the spokesman said.

The senior general manager of Malaysia Airlines, Mohammed Roslan Ismail, defended the checks in a statement yesterday, saying Qantas had 12 personnel attached to its maintenance team.

"All the highlights were rectified, to the satisfaction of the Qantas team, before aircraft delivery to Australia," he said.

"With regards to the 'string of faults' that were reported in the media, [Malaysia Airlines] investigated and established that these were unsubstantiated.

"This is based on the fact that all these aspects were originally checked and found to be free from defect during the maintenance check and test flight, with the concurrence from the Qantas team."

Anwar Ibrahim: "Shouldn't Saiful be charged too?"

There may be a number of possibilities arising from this damning challenge, namely if the charge has been Section 377B (consensual sex), then why hasn’t Saiful Bukhari Azlan been charged too for committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature?

But before they [the angels] lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know [have sex with] them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.

But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door. And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door. - (Genesis 19:4-11)

The above paragraphs are from the Biblical Book of genesis which talks about Sodom and Gomorrah, where the inhabitants were so depraved they would rather ‘know’ two strangers (jambu-looking angels) than Lot’s two virgin daughters. The sin (and Malaysian crime) of sodomy has its origin in those biblical cities.

Fast forward 4 thousand years to 07 August 2008 - 'If consensual, why charge me only?', the damning query from Anwar Ibrahim was published by Malaysiakini to the embarrassment of the Attorney-General who gave the instruction for the PKR’s de facto leader to be charged for an alleged offence of sodomy.

In the charge the prosecution had quoted Section 377B of the Penal, namely 'committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature' which means the sex was consensual, because the more sinister Section 377C says 'committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature without consent', meaning rape.

Malaysiakini reported that the DPP argued that "the interpretation of section 377B is open on whether the offence was done with or without consent as the provision is silent on the word ‘consent’."

Even as a legal layperson I would say that’s bullsh*t argument by the DPP because where Section 377C exists, the prosecution cannot and should not charge a person under Section 377B and insist on alluding to the possibility or existence of sex ‘without consent’.

Obviously, the prosecution has opted for Section 377B instead of 377C of the penal Code because it’s far more difficult to prove rape unless the police can come up with supporting evidence of physical force or even non-physical coercion.

There may be a number of possibilities arising from this damning challenge, namely if the charge has been Section 377B (consensual sex), then why hasn’t Saiful Bukhari Azlan been charged too for committing carnal intercourse against the order of nature?

Possibility 1
The prosecution may well charge Saiful tomorrow under the same Penal Code Section. This may be done to neutralize Anwar’s very legitimate query. I imagine the prosecution saying: "Now, who said that we weren't going to charge Saiful? C'mon lah, man man lai mah."

But if Saiful was party to the government’s plot to condemn Anwar, then Saiful may well not accept being ‘shafted’ again (excuse the pun) with a criminal charge, and possibly spill the beans.

Possibility No 2
The prosecution may revise the charge to Section 377C but the difficulties then would be in proving Anwar had raped Saiful.

Possibility No 3
The prosecution may bulldoze its way along the DPP's argument that "the interpretation of section 377B is open on whether the offence was done with or without consent as the provision is silent on the word ‘consent’."

A bloody poor and weak approach.

Possibility No 4
Assuming there is a plot to screw Anwar politically, then it may well be that the plan has never been to jail him (either because of the difficulties of gathering the evidence or the adverse diplomatic as well as domestic political repercussions), but to drag him slowly and excruciatingly through a public court case and expose his intimate liaison with Saiful. In other words, use the court case to smear sh*t all over his reputation.

Possibility No 4 will be the most damaging to Anwar where he will win the legal case but lose the political one (with respect to the ‘heartland’).

OK, another issue that jumps to my mind has been the accusation that the alleged sodomy was either an UMNO plot (as described above) or a consequence of a falling out between two erstwhile ‘lovers’ (if the latter, as far as I am concerned, it's none of our business).

If it has been an UMNO plot to screw up Anwar, with Saiful as the alleged accomplice (as he has been accused by PKR), then for him to seek a medical examination with Dr Mohamed Osman Abdul Hamid at Pusrawi was lazy plotting or sheer stupidity.

Then, some have accused Dr Mohamed Osman Abdul Hamid of being an Islamic brethren of Anwar Ibrahim in some Islamic organization, thus his medical report or notes or whatever has been alleged as favourable to Anwar, but I won’t go into that for now.

By the way, there’s also a Dr Raffick who raised some doubts as to Dr Mohamed Osman Abdul Hamid’s assertion that there was no sodomy perpetrated on Saiful – see Malaysiakini Doc stands by 'no sodomy' findings where Dr Mohd Osman has asserted this by resorting to our well-known Statutory Declaration - the stock of Stat Dec forms must be running low by now.

I had blogged on one of Dr Raffick’s earlier analyses on Dr Mohd Osman’s medical report – see my post Dr Raffick dismissed RPK's intepretation of doctor's report. Since then I heard he has written another or perhaps even a couple more, but I leave that to you readers to go find out.

If it has been an UMNO plot, could UMNO’s implementation of the scheme against Anwar be so piss-poor as to have Saiful medically checked by a doctor of ‘unknown allegiance’, and faced the inevitable report that there was no forced banging? Couldn't the UMNO mastermind nominate a doctor out of a host of 'more reliable' doctors?

This has been the most puzzling item in the entire drama. Because of this, there is a strong argument to believe that Saiful went on his own accord to Pusrawi.

One could be easily led to believe that if there was any sex at all as alleged, it would have been consensual, where the aftermath had turned emotionally sour for the pair. What made Saiful believe he was ‘raped’ or sodomised without consent remains open for conjecture and salacious dissections.

Though I am not a Muslim, I've also thought Anwar’s refusal to swear an oath on the Qu’ran that he didn’t do it, hasn't done him much good. This is not so much a legal requirement but more of a socially-moral expectation. I believe Anwar should have taken the oath.

In other countries, consensual sodomy is not a crime but an issue protected from hoteyes and ears by the laws of Privacy. In Malaysia it’s not only a legal crime but a religious and socially-moral sin. The latter is the more damning of the two.

Maybe Anwar’s enemies seek moral rather than legal prosecution and persecution against him. By doing so, they could be avoiding the martyr-ising of Anwar Ibrahim, but instead advocating the muddying of Anwar Ibrahim’s name.

Anwar: Sodomy charges — again

"It will have no impact whatsoever on the by-election. There will be no legal bar against contesting, and we will proceed to focus on the key issues of the campaign," says Sivarasa, who is also vice-president of Anwar's PKR. "It is a matter of time before he becomes the next Prime Minister."

History is repeating itself in politically embattled Malaysia.

"This is malicious slander, and I'm not guilty," declared former Deputy Prime Minister and current opposition politician Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, 60, on Aug 7 in court after being formally charged for allegedly sodomising a former male aide, 23-year-old Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

Anwar, who spent more than five years in jail before a court threw out earlier charges in 2004, helped power a strong performance by the three main opposition parties in national elections last February. The leader of a new opposition alliance, he recently announced his intention to run in a by-election on Aug. 26 for a seat in Parliament that had been held by his wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, who resigned to pave the way for his formal return to politics.

Although current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has repeatedly denied being behind the charges, many analysts see the allegations as politically motivated. (While homosexuality is not illegal in Malaysia, it is against sharia law that applies to the country's majority Muslim population.)

Anwar denies any wrongdoing, and his legal team has released a medical report issued by a hospital in Kuala Lumpur stating that the alleged victim showed no sign of being assaulted. R. Sivarasa, a lawyer representing Anwar, is confident of winning the case. "It will have no impact whatsoever on the by-election. There will be no legal bar against contesting, and we will proceed to focus on the key issues of the campaign," says Sivarasa, who is also vice-president of Anwar's PKR. "It is a matter of time before he becomes the next Prime Minister."

The ruling coalition has reason to worry about Anwar, who despite the latest charges is free on personal bond and can run in the by-election. Should he win, he will be well-positioned to lead the opposition alliance consisting of the PKR, Pas and the multiracial DAP.

"This will be the mother of all by-elections," says Tricia Yeoh, director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies in Kuala Lumpur, who believes that the international community will be watching closely what happens.

Political analysts say Malaysia is seeing for the first time a two-party system with a strong opposition. That could force the ruling coalition, led by Umno, to fight corruption and reform economic policies that have long given an advantage to the country's majority Malays, says Steven Gan, editor-in-chief of independent news website

The controversial New Economic Policy, launched by Umno in 1971 as an affirmative action programme for Malays, is often seen by its critics as a discriminatory economic policy against the minority Chinese and Indians.

Gan thinks that the implications of Anwar's return would extend beyond Malaysia. "If he wins, Anwar would provide a very moderate version of Islam, much more so than current Prime Minister Abdullah," he says. Although his opposition alliance includes the Muslim fundamentalist party Pas, Gan argues, Anwar has tempered the extreme Islamic rhetoric of the party's leaders since taking the helm of the coalition.

Long before the latest twist in this political saga, Malaysia's financial markets were in disarray. Two months ago bond markets were roiled when independent power producers defaulted on covenants attached to their bonds because of an unpopular windfall tax policy by the government. The Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Index has dropped 22% this year, while the ringgit is trading at a six-month low against the US dollar.

Protest stops Bar Council conversions forum

Several hundred protesters demonstrated outside the Bar Council forum on conversions to Islam this morning, with some forcing their way into the hall as police called on the organisers to wrap up proceedings by 10am.

Witnesses said several protesters entered the building escorted by police, stood in the middle of the hall and stared at the several hundred participants attending the "Conversion to Islam: Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution, Subashini & Shamala Revisited" forum.

The protesters had gathered since 8am and brought out banners criticising and condemning the forum which has received objections from both government and opposition leaders.

At 9.25am, Bar Council president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan interrupted the forum to say the police have advised them to wrap it up by 10am as protest still going on outside the building. The forum began at 8.45am.

Ambiga closed the forum 3 minutes before 10am deadline. Protesters still trying to barge in. Pas Unit Amal members standing between them and the police, trying to stop them.

Protesters are leaving but some are trying to chase and harass participants coming out. Bar Council members are seen seeking the help of the police to prevent this.

The Mundane Face of the Global Caliphate

There are, presently, a plethora of Islamist organisations and mass movements who have taken the notion of the global Caliphate as their goal.

Farish A. Noor

Today there is much talk, accompanied by some degree of unnecessary speculation and fear-mongering, about the claims and ambitions of Islamists who seek to create a global Caliphate as the panacea for the ills of Muslim society worldwide. That such talk of a pan-Islamic global project would spook the spooks of the international anti-terror industry is, of course, not entirely surprising for nothing seems to agitate the public more these days than the idea of a couple of Muslims getting together and plotting the imminent take-over of the universe.

There are, presently, a plethora of Islamist organisations and mass movements who have taken the notion of the global Caliphate as their goal. Groups like the Hizb'ut Tahrir openly proclaim their vision of a pan-Islamic world; while mainstream Islamist parties ranging from the Ikhwan'ul Muslimin of Egypt and the Arab world to the Jama'at-e Islami of South Asia to the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party of Malaysia have also spread their networks and contacts beyond the host countries where they first emerged. International conferences bring together Islamists from all corners of the globe with the frequency we associate more with international governmental or business conferences; and the internet has already created a virtual Islamoscape where Islamists from every country on the planet may interact simultaneously in real time. In many respects, such a global pan-Islamic universe already exists, and it can be said that the pan-Islamic world is a virtual empire where the sun never sets.

Yet looking beyond the narrow concerns of securocrats obsessed with the threat of Islamic terrorism, we need to peer beneath the discursive carapace of this grand project and understand its true import and what it hopes to achieve.

In my discussions with Islamists from Pakistan to Indonesia, I have been struck by the common appeal of them all: They long to create a global pan-Islamic space where belonging to the same faith community is the only passport one needs to travel across the Muslim world unrestricted. In many respects, this is reminiscent of the travels of Ibn Battuta, the celebrated Muslim traveller whose journeys took him across Africa and all the way to Southeast Asia and beyond. Ibn Battuta was, of course a bad traveller and a fussy tourist who insisted all the time that he be served halal food and live in comfortable familiar surroundings that did not offend or contradict his Muslim sensibilities. What he sought then, and what Islamists today seek, are the same: The freedom to travel across the globe while remaining comfortable in the safe confines of a Muslim universe.

The global Islamist project can and should be seen in this light as well, for this is yet another aspect of its ambitions. Though it is sometimes couched in somewhat aggressive, if not militarist, terms of conquest and expansion, the yearning is fundamentally a mundane one.

What is it that these global Islamists seek? On one hand the project is restorative in nature: It seeks to restore to the Muslim world the cosmopolitanism and universalism that it once professed but lost with the coming of European imperialism. The Muslim world, we should remember, was global in outlook and its outreach, and Muslim merchants, scholars, diplomats and mystics travelled across the world with ease and regularity that was guaranteed by the presence of long-established networks, itineraries and a communicative infrastructure that were the sinews of this global system.

On the other hand the pan-Islamist vision is also one that is guided by the longing for safety and comfort, where itinerant Muslims feel the need to belong to a globalised world that is safe, or at least not hostile to them. In the same way that itinerant merchants and scholars of the past depended on letters of introduction and guarantees of safe passage that would allow them to travel with ease, likewise the global Islamists today seek the same assurances from an international order that ought to be protecting them. Hence the appeal to Muslim identity and a common faith and value system as the guarantee that their mobility would not be restricted.

This yearning for mobility, freedom of movement, the right to live and settle anywhere, all happen to be pragmatic, mundane and material concerns that are in fact universal and are symptoms of the globalised age we live in. The longing for an extended Islamoscape with an unbroken frontier that extents and expands continuously can and should be seen as part of the evolution of a Muslim consciousness and sensibility that is global in its scope and outlook, the pining for a global Muslim citizenship so to speak.

Already we see the first real material evidence of such a global network in the making around us: Talk of a global Muslim currency (the so-called golden Dinar) that was dismissed as pseudo-economic froth not too long ago has gained momentum and is being taken seriously by some of the more developed Muslim countries in the world. Likewise the idea of a common Muslim trading bloc, to demonstrate the combined purchasing power of the so-called 'Muslim dollar' and its market. The landscape of the Muslim world today is littered with hundreds of 'Muslim hotels' and resorts that cater to the culturally-specific needs of Muslims, whatever they might be. And there is even talk of the world's first 'Islamic car' – a project mooted by the governments of Iran and Malaysia – to help Muslims travel around the world in the comfort of a Muslim environment, albeit confined within the four doors of the passengers' cabin.

In many respects it is not surprising nor unexpected that Muslims today would have such global ambitions for we do live, after all, in a global age and where the very idea of global citizenship – underpinned by the values of cosmopolitanism and universalism – are in common currency. How does this global Islamic vision differ from that of other faith communities, who likewise wish to create a safe space for its adherents the world over; and crucially, how does this global outlook differ from the universalist claims and ambitions of global capital, that has brought us a host of safe spaces and safe networks of communication and movement from the ubiquitous Hilton hotels that are universally uniform to the phenomenon of a McWorld where the staple diet of urban denizens in many countries today happens to be Cheese Burgers with French Fries (or Freedom Fries, as they re-christened recently)?

Looking closer at some of the global Islamist networks that span the globe today, such as the Tablighi Jama'at (the world's biggest Muslim missionary movement), the network of Islamist parties with transnational or supra-national ambitions, Muslim guilds and trading groups, Sufi mystical networks and the like, we can see that they all share family resemblances with the more mainstream modes of globalisation that is capital-driven. This is not to say that Islamist networks can be likened to Mc Donalds or cast as a franchise business with branches to be opened around every street corner. But it does mean that much of the talk of pan-Islamism and the creation of global Islamist networks we have seen the world over thus far is not as alien or exotic as we might think. Fundamentally, the fundamentalists are concerned with something far more mundane and ordinary, which is to provide a service that meets a need that has become all the more prevalent in the late-Capitalist globalised age we live in: This is the sense of global citizenship and the feeling of belonging to a globalised world where one is no longer a stranger to the other. (By FARISH A. NOOR/ MySinchew)

Farish A. Noor is a Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; and one of the founders of the research site.

Some seriously troubling questions in Malaysia

On Day 10 of the trial, Altantuya's cousin Burmaa Oyunchimeg testified that after Altantuya returned from France, she went to Hong Kong to meet Burmaa, and showed her a photograph of Altantuya and her lover, Abdul Razak Baginda, who is accused of conspiring in her murder, and "a government official" taking a meal together.

Kim Quek, Asia Sentinel (3 July 2007)

An unbelievable spectacle took place in the bizarre murder trial of Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaaribuu on June 29. Karpal Singh, the lawyer for the victim’s family, attempted to ask a question about a “government official" allegedly seen in a photograph with the victim. At that point, both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer sprang to their feet in unison to block the question.

This resulted in a shouting match, with Singh on one side, the victim’s cousin on the stand, and the combined forces of the prosecution and defense blocking the line of questioning.

Earlier, a similar division of forces occurred when a Mongolian witness – a girlfriend of the victim told the court that immigration entry computer records of the deceased and her two Mongolian companions, including the witness, had been mysteriously erased. When Singh asked the court to take proper note of this highly irregular event, both the prosecution and defense objected to the evidence as irrelevant, and insisted that it be expunged.

Now, isn't that a strange phenomenon? A prosecutor is supposed to seek justice for the deceased victim's family against the murderers, so how come the prosecutor is now ganging up with defense lawyers to oppose the victim's family lawyer? Is this a case of prosecutor vs. defense or a case of prosecutor plus defense vs. victim's family? Obviously, the prosecution and defense seem to have plenty of common interests. What are those common interests?

The answer may lie in the identity of that "government official" that allegedly appeared in the photograph with Altantuya that both prosecution and defense tried so hard not to allow into court.

The picture

On Day 10 of the trial, Altantuya's cousin Burmaa Oyunchimeg testified that after Altantuya returned from France, she went to Hong Kong to meet Burmaa, and showed her a photograph of Altantuya and her lover, Abdul Razak Baginda, who is accused of conspiring in her murder, and "a government official" taking a meal together. Answering Singh later, after the shouting match in the court had subsided, she said this "government official" was Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

She could distinctly remember the name, she said, because it bears a similarity to Altantuya’s acknowledged lover's name, and she even asked Altantuya whether they were brothers. Burmaa further added that the photo had also been shown to Altantuya's father.

Now, the revelation of Najib in the photo would not have caused such a sensation if not for the deputy prime minister's oft-repeated denial of any knowledge of Altantuya, including a public denial during a recent by-election, when even the name of Allah was invoked.

What does Najib have to say now that his denial is directly contradicted by the witness Burmaa? His press secretary Tengku Sarifuddin Tengku Ahmad issued a brief statement on June 30 saying that the deputy prime minister had declined to comment for two reasons. One, any comment might be sub judice, since the case is in court, and, two, Najib had already repeatedly denied an acquaintance with the girl in the past, "as such, the issue over the picture does not arise,” the spokesman said.

Sub judice? That’s ridiculous. How could a simple statement like "I have never had my photo taken with Altantuya" be sub judice? In fact, being the number-two leader in the government, Najib is absolutely duty-bound to say outright whether he was ever photographed with Altantuya, in view of the serious implications of Burmaa's allegation.

The issue over the picture does not arise? Equally ridiculous. In fact, the opposite is true. Precisely because of Najib's past denials, it is all the more imperative that Najib must stand up now to clarify.

Guilty conscience?

There is only one explanation for Najib's past denials and his present silence: A guilty conscience. If Najib's conduct with respect to the case had been above-board, there would be no reason for him to deny an acquaintance with his friend Abdul Razak’s friend Altantuya. Similarly, if the allegation of the picture is false, it is inconceivable and totally incomprehensible that Najib should have chosen not to refute Burmaa's allegation.

In fact, Najib seems so worried about the publicity of the picture that his secretary called editors in the local press and requested them not to blow up the issue. This resulted in the explosive story being absent from the local headlines the next day. (In one Chinese paper – Guang Ming – the Najib story hit the front page in the evening edition, but disappeared completely by the next morning). And of course, Anwar Ibrahim's criticism of the trial and his specific call on Najib to clarify the issue of the picture during a press conference was generally blacked out.

However, despite such new suppression, irreversible damage is done. There is little doubt that Najib is deeply troubled and his political position seriously weakened.


That this murder case has been subjected to serious political manipulation has been obvious from the very start, when the police commenced their highly questionable investigation, right through to the present trial when the conduct of lawyers for both sides appear increasingly dubious. Instead of the prosecutor seeking the truth and the defense lawyer fighting for the accused, both seem preoccupied with an overriding mission – to prevent the whole truth from emerging. Their combined efforts to cover up the issue of the immigration record and the identity of Najib Razak in the picture are just two examples of such conduct.

The highly irregular nature of this case was also marked by frequent and mysterious changes of legal personnel, resulting in a complete change-over of the defense team, the prosecutors and the judge even before the hearings began. These weird phenomena were crowned by the shock appearance of a new team of prosecutors who were appointed only hours before the hearing was supposed to begin, thus necessitating an impromptu postponement of the trial for two weeks. None of these changes of legal personnel has been properly explained, except for the resignation of Abdul Razak’s first lawyer; Zulkifli Noordin, quit, he said, because of "serious interference by third parties".

Under these circumstances, the public must brace itself for more aberrant scenarios from this court, while Najib and his supporters may have to keep their fingers crossed in the days ahead when many more witnesses have yet to walk through what must appear to Najib as a minefield.

On a more serious note, this unseemly trial does not exactly add credit to Malaysia’s system, whose already wretched image has just been further mauled by the shameful finale of another sham trial – that of Eric Chia of Perwaja Steel fame. After seven long years of investigations and three years of court hearings, that case was thrown out due to lack of prima facie evidence. With that, the long-drawn out Perwaja Steel saga ended without finding any culprit for the mountain of losses (more than RM 10 billion) suffered by taxpayers.

There has been a spate of criminal cases being dismissed of late due to inadequate investigations and poor prosecution, indicating that the downward slide of our criminal justice system, which began in the Mahathir era, has gotten worse under Abdullah Badawi's leadership. With the criminal justice system in a shambles, the rule of law is in jeopardy. And that is an important benchmark to judge the efficacy of Abdullah's administration vis-à-vis his reform agenda.

Kim Quek is a Malaysia-based commentator.

2 notorious cases challenge Malaysia's modesty

This is not the first time that sex and politics have publicly collided in Malaysia. The trial of Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister, for sodomy in the 1990s featured, among other highlights, a blood-stained mattress being hauled into the courtroom.

Thomas Fuller

Government censors in this majority Muslim nation uphold an ethos of modesty by snipping sex scenes from films and ordering entertainers to avoid outfits that reveal too much on Malaysian stages - bare belly buttons and figure-hugging outfits are off limits.

But these days Malaysians looking to avoid R-rated content might be advised to read past news reports about their own leaders. Top politicians are embroiled in two scandals involving accusations of sodomy and the gruesome murder of a Mongolian mistress.

Reports on the finer points of a rectal examination and revelations about the sexual preferences of the dead mistress make other sex scandals that once shocked people here - such as Monica Lewinsky and her blue dress - seem almost Victorian.

This is not the first time that sex and politics have publicly collided in Malaysia. The trial of Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister, for sodomy in the 1990s featured, among other highlights, a blood-stained mattress being hauled into the courtroom.

This time, wider use of the Internet has helped disseminate documents, facts and rumors that would otherwise have been filtered out of mainstream news media tightly controlled by the government.

The two scandals encompass much more than just sex. They are part of a broader clash between two men vying for power: Anwar is facing new allegations of sodomy at a time when he is vowing to unseat the governing party, while the other scandal involves Anwar's principal political rival, Najib Razak, the deputy prime minister and anointed heir to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

What is worrying for many Malaysians is that the gloves appear to have come off in the high-stakes fight between Anwar and Najib.

Testimony in the murder trial revealed that immigration records of the Mongolian woman and her friend had been deleted.

Malaysia's political opposition says the case highlights the impunity of the police and high officials in government as well as a lack of independence in the judiciary. A police officer took the stand and said she was tortured by police investigators - her own colleagues.

Witnesses in both cases have dropped from sight, including a private investigator, Balasubramaniam Perumal, who alleged in a sworn statement issued shortly before disappearing that the dead Mongolian woman was Najib's mistress.

The statement by Balasubramaniam, which has been widely circulated online, contradicted Najib's repeated assertions that he never met the Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Balasubramaniam spent two months writing and revising a 16-page declaration about the case, based on conversations he had with the murdered woman and Abdul Razak Baginda, an aide to Najib. Balasubramaniam retracted the allegations in a hastily convened press conference and then disappeared.

"It's obvious what has happened here. You don't need to be a rocket scientist," said Americk Sidhu, the private investigator's lawyer. "Somebody needed him to shut up."

Balasubramaniam's wife and three children are also missing. The family's two Rottweilers were left behind in their cages.

"A lot of very dark things are happening now," said Raja Petra Kamarudin, one of the most influential and prolific Malaysian bloggers. Raja Petra was formerly a political associate of Anwar's wife, Azizah Ismail, in her National Justice Party.

Although a number of gruesome facts in the Mongolian case have emerged in court over the past year - Altantuya, for example, was shot and her body obliterated with explosives in the jungle outside Kuala Lumpur - Raja Petra asserts that only a fraction of what happened is being admitted into court.

Citing sources in military intelligence, he issued a sworn declaration in June alleging that Najib's wife, Rosmah Mansor, was present at Altantuya's killing. Government prosecutors say Altantuya was killed by two commandos who also served as bodyguards to Malaysia's top leaders.

"I don't think Malaysia can afford to have a prime minister who has a huge question mark hanging over his head: Is he, or not, involved in the murder of this girl?" Raja Petra said in an interview.

Najib has called the allegation in the declaration "total lies, fabrication and total garbage" and a "desperate and pathetic attempt to discredit and taint my political image."

The government charged Raja Petra with criminal libel, a law that lawyers say has not been used in recent memory in Malaysia and which, unlike civil defamation, can carry a two-year prison term. Separately, Raja Petra has been charged with sedition and his house raided several times.

Raja Petra was also responsible for leaking a medical report last week relating to the sodomy case. Anwar's accuser, Mohamed Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old former campaign volunteer, went to a hospital in Kuala Lumpur hours before lodging a police report charging that Anwar had sodomized him. But the medical report, which also circulated widely on the Internet, says he complained of a piece of plastic being inserted into his anus. The doctor who wrote the report, Mohamed Osman, said he found "no active bleeding, no pus, tear or scar."

Since then, Osman also has disappeared, although the hospital says he will be back Monday.

Anwar, who on Thursday announced that he would run for Parliament in his quest to unseat the government and become prime minister, said in an interview that he expected to be arrested soon. He has refused to give a DNA sample because he believes it will be used against him. "There's nothing stopping them from fabricating evidence again," Anwar said.

Although Malaysians enthusiastically share the latest developments in both cases, some have grown tired of the graphic details.

"A good word is disgust - whether it's sodomy or blowing up the Mongolian lady," said the Reverend Wong Kim Kong, executive adviser of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship, an umbrella organization of protestant churches. A narrow majority of Malaysians are Muslim but the country has sizeable Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh minorities.

Wong said the constant barrage of allegations made by bloggers, paired with the government's steady denials, have left Malaysians pining for clarity.

"People just cannot trust the word of any of these people," Wong said. "They cannot distinguish who is telling the truth."

The scandals come at a time of great political uncertainty in Malaysia. The governing party of Abdullah and Najib and the ethnic-based system of politics that it represents is in disarray. There is simmering resentment between the majority Malays and the minority Chinese and Indians, and corruption within government is rampant, despite promises by Abdullah to clean up the system.

Anwar has vowed to remake the country's politics and revoke the authoritarian laws that, among other things, ban students from protesting, keep the media controlled and allow the government to lock up dissidents without trial. But Anwar remains a polarizing figure who is not trusted by many in the elite.

"I think there will at some point be a crisis of legitimacy," said Ibrahim Suffian, the head of the Merdeka Center, a polling agency. "'The leaders seem to feel that they can get away with a lot of things so long as the masses are satisfied with the economic opportunities given to them.

"But the economy is so bad that people are losing faith. There is a feeling that maybe it's time for major changes."

Anwar is arrested and brought to Bukit Aman

The Malaysian government first said that Anwar Ibrahim was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on 20 September 1998 - the day he led the biggest demonstration in Malaysia’s history - because he was a threat to national security.

Dato Yaacob Md Amin, the Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), testified in the Royal Commission of Inquiry that sat from 22 February to 4 March 1999 to investigate Anwar’s beating that the decision to arrest Anwar was made one week before 20 September. He also testified that Anwar was arrested, not under the ISA, but under Section 377 of the Penal Code, and that this decision came from the AG’s Chambers’ office.

Today, we will go through Dato Yaacob’s testimony on the events the night of Anwar’s arrest.

“On 20 September 1998, at around 6.45pm, I received information from the Bukit Aman Control Centre regarding demonstrations at Masjid Negara (National Mosque) and Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square).”

“At 8.30pm, I went to the 30th floor Police Headquarters, Bukit Aman.”

“When I reached the 30th floor, there were many officers there. They were talking to each other, among themselves, in the hall.”

“I knew that the situation in KL was bad and I went to the 30th floor to give assistance, if needed. I was not instructed to go to the 30th floor.”

“When I arrived at the hall, I saw Tan Sri Rahim Noor, the former IGP, Dato Ghazali Yaacob, and other officers.”

“While I was talking to the officers present, I came to know that action to arrest Dato Seri Anwar was in progress. I knew of this fact at about 9.30pm.”

“At 10.00pm, I came to know that Dato Seri Anwar had been arrested by police officers and he would be brought back to Bukit Aman.”

“I went downstairs to the foyer because I wanted to see Dato Seri Anwar being brought in to Bukit Aman. I did not inform Tan Sri Rahim that I wanted to go downstairs. I did not inform anyone on the 30th floor that I wanted to go down to see the arrival of Dato Seri Anwar.”

“I saw the arrival of the vehicle. Dato Seri Anwar was helped out of the vehicle and was led by two police officers into the foyer. He was blindfolded. He was not handcuffed.”

“As he passed me I said something, “Treat him like a normal criminal. Why is he not handcuffed?” This statement was directed to the officers who affected the arrest.”

“The normal practice is, when a person is arrested, he would be handcuffed. It is not normal to blindfold a person who is arrested.”

“When a criminal is arrested he is handcuffed. At that time I knew that Dato Seri Anwar was arrested under Section 377 of the Penal Code which is a criminal offence.”

“He was taken straight to the lockup. I followed him from behind into the lockup area.”

“Not long after that, Dato Ramli arrived. When Dato Ramli arrived at the counter, I left the lockup. When I left the lockup area, Dato Seri Anwar was not taken into the cell yet.”

“I left the lockup and went to the CID office. There were other officers and I had general conversations with these officers. While I was talking to these officers, I got to know that Tan Sri Rahim would be visiting the lockup.”

“After I knew about this, I went to the lift and waited for Tan Sri Rahim. Shortly after that, Tan Sri Rahim came out from the lift. Tan Sri Rahim was alone at that time.”

“I received Tan Sri Rahim and he uttered, “Come!” My understanding of that is to follow him. Apart from that, he did not say anything else to me.”

Tomorrow, we will continue with Dato Yaacob’s testimony on what happened in the lockup.