Anwar Trial Looms Over Malaysian Politics

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is carving out a new role for himself as a liberal reformer after pledging to scrap the country's harsh Internal Security Act, but he still has one big problem in selling his case to the rest of the world—the continuing sodomy trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Associated Press
Anwar Ibrahim arrived at a courthouse in Kuala Lumpur, on Aug. 22.
The trial has captivated Malaysia since Anwar was arrested three years ago for allegedly violating Malaysia's strict sodomy laws by having sex with a male aide.
Mr. Anwar, a 64-year-old father of six with a goatee mustache and snappy glasses, denies the charges, saying they are a political plot to destroy any threat to the ruling coalition that has controlled Malaysia for over half a century. Mr. Najib and his government deny setting him up. If Mr. Anwar is convicted, he faces going to prison for the second time after being jailed in 1998 for allegedly sodomizing two other aides before an appeals court overturned his conviction.
The outcome could help determine bigger issues in this majority-Muslim, multi-racial nation of 28 million people, which has been struggling to break away from its system of race and religion-based politics that many analysts believe have retarded growth in one of Southeast Asia's most important economies.
Although Mr. Najib is opening up the country's political system to head off the kinds of stresses that have destabilized parts of the Middle East this year—on Thursday he announced plans to repeal harsh laws that allow for detention without trial and pledged new freedoms for the country's closely controlled media—he faces a potential push-back from opponents in his ruling United Malays National Organization party. Some analysts view Mr. Anwar's multi-ethnic opposition alliance as perhaps better placed to pursue a more aggressive liberalization policy—that is if he can stay out of jail and get elected to office.
This time around a difference is emerging compared with Mr. Anwar's last trial, or so Mr. Anwar hopes: The importance of forensic evidence that could be partially attributed to—the widespread following here for fictional television cops such as Horatio Caine of the show CSI: Miami.
Political analysts say that in 1998 Mr. Anwar was convicted on witness testimony, but this time the prosecution relies heavily on new technologies such as DNA testing and other forensic-investigation techniques. That, Mr. Anwar told The Wall Street Journal during a recent recess at his trial, gives him fresh hope of being acquitted.
"Last time there was no medical report and no medical evidence—nothing but the word of mouth," Mr. Anwar said during a lengthy discussion about anal swabs, data samples and the survival time of sperm cells. "But now the case is all about the science—and that's where I have a chance."
A Malaysian government spokesman says it has no comment on Anwar's remarks, saying it is a matter for the courts.
During recent testimony in the marathon trial, Mr. Anwar's lawyers presented a series of expert witnesses who raised doubts about the credibility of the forensic evidence presented by prosecutors. Australian forensics expert Brian McDonald told the court that the DNA testing and labeling wasn't up to international standards and was riddled with errors. Dr. McDonald said it was unclear where some samples came from.
Some of the testimony could help Mr. Anwar's case, especially in the court of public opinion, analysts say.
"I think it will resonate," says Bridget Welsh, a professor Singapore Management University and a close observer of Malaysia's political drama. "People in general don't trust the system. That feeling is endemic in Malaysia and Mr. Anwar is trying to capitalize on it."
It helps that shows such as the CSI franchises are so popular, especially the Miami-based version famously spoofed by comedian Jim Carrey on the David Letterman show. Malaysians closely follow the adventures of Lt. Caine and his colleagues as they try to bring down criminals using advanced forensic techniques and a spot of fisticuffs when appropriate.
"We know about forensics. Nobody can fool us about that. We've all seen CSI," says one keen viewer, Rizal Osman, from Pahang, central Malaysia.
Bloggers, among others, often discuss plots from shows such as CSI and Special Victims Unit to discuss what's going on in Malaysia. One person, Gerard Samuel Vijayan, wrote to the Malaysiakini portal to describe an episode of Special Victims Unit that featured a conspiracy to fabricate DNA. He said Mr. Anwar might be facing a similar problem. "Given the holes in the prosecution's case, there is sufficient doubt to acquit the accused," Mr. Vijayan wrote.
Either way, as the trial moves toward its conclusion—Mr. Anwar is scheduled to continue making his defense on Monday —Malaysians can expect to hear more about DNA, and in forensic detail, in the weeks and months to come.
Claiming he is unable to get a fair trial, Mr. Anwar unleashed a tirade against Malaysia's judiciary recently, liberally quoting from Nelson Mandela, Shakespeare and the Quran to buttress his allegation that the judiciary and government are conspiring to put him away—something Mr. Najib denies.
If Mr. Anwar is ultimately convicted, "I hope the forensic evidence lingers in people's minds," he says. "It's worth the effort and expense of debunking the prosecution's entire case."
In the meantime, Mr. Anwar's political party is claiming the credit for forcing Mr. Najib to unlock Malaysia's political system. Mr. Anwar took to microblogging site Twitter after arriving on an overnight flight from England to say Malaysians must remain vigilant. "We have to be wary whether the freedoms are now guaranteed and what laws will replace" the Internal Security Act.
Write to James Hookway at


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Have a first-aid kit ready

Secure furniture to the wall
Before the Earthquake:

Fasten down hazardous objects well
  1. Have ready: First-aid kit, torches, battery-operated radio, batteries etc and some provisions in a place known to everyone. Know how to disconnect electricity, gas and water.
  2. Make an emergency action plan and ensure that the family gathers in a secure place.
  3. Prepare a telephone list so that, if necessary, you can call the civil protection, fire, medical emergency or police services.
  4. Do not place heavy objects on top of high furniture, secure them on the ground.
  5. Fix furniture such as cupboards, bookshelves, etc., firmly to the walls and fasten down those objects which could cause damage if they fell such as pictures, mirrors, lamps, toxic or inflammable products, etc.Fix furniture such as cupboards, bookshelves, etc., firmly to the walls and fasten down those objects which could cause damage if they fell such as pictures, mirrors, lamps, toxic or inflammable products, etc.
  6. Check the structure of your house and, above all, ensure that chimneys, eaves, rendering, balconies, etc., are securely fixed to the main structural components of the house. If necessary, consult a building expert.
During the earthquake:

Protect yourself by lying underneath a bed

Do not use the lift
If the earthquake is not strong, stay calm — it will soon be over.
If the earthquake is strong, stay calm and transmit your calm to others. Be very careful to avoid risks and remember the following instructions:
  1. If you are inside a building, stay inside; if you're outside, remain outside.Entering or leaving buildings can only cause accidents.
  2. Inside a building, look for strong structures: underneath a table or bed, underneath a door lintel, next to a pillar, supporting wall or in a corner and protect your head.
  3. Do not use the lift and never run headlong towards the exit.
  4. Extinguish all fires. Do not use any type of flame (match, lighter, candle, etc.) during or immediately after the tremor.
  5. Outside of a building, keep away from electricity cables, cornices, windows, parapets, etc.
  6. In order to avoid being hit by dangerous falling objects (glass, cornices, etc.), do not approach or enter buildings. Head for open spaces, do not run and beware of traffic.
  7. If you are travelling in a car when the earthquake occurs, stop where you can and remain in it away from bridges and steep drops.

Lie underneath a table

Keep away from electricity cables
After the Earthquake:

Do not flee headlong
  • keep calm and ensure that others do the same. Prevent any panic situations.
  • Check whether anyone is hurt; give them any necessary first aid. The seriously injured should not be moved except if you have the knowledge to do so; in the event that the situation worsens (fire, landslide, etc.) move the patient with care.
  • Check the condition of water, gas and electricity conduits, both visually and by smell, never start machinery. In the event of any anomaly or doubt, turn off the mains switches, and inform the technicians or authorities.
  • Do not use the telephone. Only do so in the event of an extreme emergency. Turn the radio on to receive information or instructions from the authorities.
  • Be careful opening cupboards —some objects may have been left in an unstable position.
  • Use boots or shoes with thick soles to protect yourself from objects which are sharp or may cut.
  • Do not repair damage immediately, except if there is broken glass or bottles containing toxic or inflammable substances.
  • Put out any fires. If you cannot control them, contact the fire brigadestraight away.
  • After a very violent tremor leave the building where you are in an orderly and gradual fashion, especially if the building is damaged.
  • Keep away from damaged buildings. Move to open areas.
  • After a strong earthquake, other smaller aftershocks follow which may cause additional destruction, especially to damaged buildings. Stay away from such buildings.
  • If there are urgent reasons to enter damaged buildings, do so quickly and do not remain inside. Do not enter buildings with serious damage until it is authorized to do so.
  • Take care when using mains water since it may be contaminated. Drink bottled and boiled water.
  • If the epicentre of a large earthquake is at sea, it may cause a tidal wave. This may be of considerable size in the Gulf of Cadiz. Stay away from the beach.

Do not go on to the balcony
  • Follow the rules and recommendations for Seismic Emergencies and the instructions of the Civil Protection service.
  • Turn the radio on and follow the instructions given by the authorities. Do notlet yourself be influenced by or spread rumours.
  • Report seriously damaged buildings to the authorities, especially those which threaten to collapse in thoroughfares. Report the existence of hazardous material (radioactive, toxic products, etc.) or any event (fire, explosions, etc) which threatens to increase or provoke damage.
  • Work with and under the orders of the Civil Protection service. Coordination is essential. Help provide assistance to the injured, ill, children and old people.We all play a role in civil protection.
  • Pay attention to the instructions of the authorities. If requested, do not enter affected areas. Being curious is dangerous and makes assistance work more difficult.
  • Do not use your car as there is a risk of accidents and hinders external aid.
  • Only use the telephone in extreme cases. Use your resources sparingly (water, food, etc.). Work together with your neighbours.

  • Earthquake: Sudden and abrupt liberation of energy accumulated by a slow deformation in the Earth’s surface which spreads through seismic waves.
  • Seismic source: Volume of rock which fractures during an earthquake.
  • Seismic tremor: Accumulation of motions vibrating the earth.
  • Hypocentre: The point where the earthquake begins.
  • Epicentre: Point on the surface situated vertically above the focus or hypocentre.
  • Aftershocks: Smaller earthquakes which follow an earthquake.
  • Precursors: Smaller earthquakes which precede a main earthquake.
  • Magnitude: Measurement developed by Richter which indicates the size of and energy liberated by an earthquake in the form of seismic waves. The magnitude scale has no limits, although no earthquakes have been observed with a local magnitude higher than 9.
  • Intensity: Parameter which indicates the impact of tremors in an area affected by earthquake tremors. It is measured using the reactions of people, the degree of damage caused to buildings and the disturbance caused to land (fissures, landslides, etc.). The official scale used in Spain is the E.M.S. 92 which is divided into 12 levels. Damage starts to be significant from level VII.


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