A show trial that would have pleased Stalin

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The Independent Online

So much for the superior "Asian values" about which Malaysia's Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, once so delighted to lecture the West. Yesterday's conviction on sodomy charges of his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim is an unqualified disgrace for his country and for a judicial system that has presided over a show trial that would have done Joseph Stalin proud.

So much for the superior "Asian values" about which Malaysia's Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, once so delighted to lecture the West. Yesterday's conviction on sodomy charges of his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim is an unqualified disgrace for his country and for a judicial system that has presided over a show trial that would have done Joseph Stalin proud.

From the outset, the case has been about one thing only: the prime minister's determination to destroy the career and reputation of a rival. Its verdict was preordained: the sentence of nine years, which will follow a six-year term for corruption that Anwar is already serving, is designed to keep him from any sort of political comeback for a decade at least.

It is worth recapitulating some of the "irregularities" - to put them at their mildest - of the criminal proceedings against Anwar and his adopted brother Sukma Darmawan. The men were originally held without access to counsel, under Malaysia's infamous Internal Security Act. The independent-minded judge who was originally due to hear the case was abruptly transferred. Anwar was severely roughed up in prison, as were a number of key witnesses, to secure their confessions.

Quite breathtakingly, defence lawyers who produced affidavits in support of the innocence of their client were themselves prosecuted for contempt; even the dates of the supposed offences were twice altered by the prosecution. There was always going to be only one outcome to this trial - and that was not Anwar's acquittal and the primacy of impartial justice.

At least the verdict will dispel any lingering doubts about the miserable state of human rights in Malaysia. Anwar's arrest two years ago was the cue for the regime to clamp down on its critics, closing down opposition publications, banning rallies and detaining protesters. Malaysia has since put the worst of the Asian financial crisis behind it, and foreign investment - rarely oversensitive to the politics of the country for which it is destined - has resumed.

But there can be no return to business as usual with Malaysia while Anwar Ibrahim remains unjustly imprisoned. The world will doubtless be accused by Mahathir of failing to understand "Asian values" and told to mind its own business. But it is Mahathir's political legitimacy, rather than Anwar's reputation, that is the real victim of yesterday's verdict. We should lose no opportunity to remind Mahathir, and the other members of the Commonwealth, of that fact.

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