THOUGH his innocence was never in question, the acquittal in the Anwar Ibrahim trial (full story, page 23) came as a surprise to those of us who have been closely following events in Malaysia.
In 1998, Anwar faced a similar ordeal, which landed him solitary confinement for 15 years. His real crime was launching a popular uprising against the rule of then prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed.
Viewed as a threat to the ruling party’s status quo, Anwar was sacked as deputy prime minister and finance minister, arrested and sentenced after a trial that was marred by political interference, falsification of evidence, blackmailing, coercion and torture of witnesses, harassment of defence lawyers, and refusal to admit witness testimony favourable to the accused.
Anwar’s current trial mimicked many of those irregularities and, therefore, left many of us expecting the worse in advance of today’s verdict.
In January last year I, along with my colleague Mehmet Celebi, penned a short report for the Obama administration on the background of the trial and why the United States must protest against this charade. On examining all the evidence available to us and conducting a number of “off the record” interviews, it became very clear to us very quickly that the entire basis of the current trial was questionable.
We therefore concluded that the continuation of this trial was a clear and present danger to democracy consolidation in a country regarded as being one of the only fully developed democracies in the Muslim world. An attribute that Dr Anwar himself could take credit for.
The comeback kid of Malaysian politics represents a rare breed in Muslim politics. He is political figure who traverses the lines of Muslim traditionalism and liberalism more effectively than almost anyone else on the global scene today.
In this year of the Arab Spring, a figure like Anwar, unburdened by the daily distraction of the trial, can be a potent and credible voice for reform in Malaysia and across the Muslim world.
• Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a fellow and member of the board of directors at the Institute of Social Policy. He is not related to Anwar Ibrahim