22 July, 2008

The Wife's Side Of The Story

The wife of Malaysia's opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, said she fears for his life after he was arrested for sodomy, an allegation the couple dismiss as a crude conspiracy.

By Thomas Bell in Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Anwar recently led an opposition coalition to sweeping gains in national elections and is challenging the ruling party for power for the first time in Malaysia's 50 year history.

He has boasted he can persuade enough government MPs to change sides to topple the regime by September.

"We've had warnings from many quarters who say he is so important to making a change for the future, he is at risk," said Dr Wan Azizah Wan, Mr Anwar's wife, who is also a politician.

"Now it is this political assassination. It doesn't mean they will stop there," she added.

For Mr Anwar, the sodomy case is all too familiar. In 1998 he was deputy prime minister when he fell out with Malaysia's then ruler, Mahathir Mohamad, and was charged with sodomy and corruption. He was arrested, savagely beaten by the chief of police and jailed for six years, before being acquitted in 2004.

History repeated itself last month when a young Anwar aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 23, made fresh sodomy allegations. He briefly fled to the Turkish embassy, saying he feared an attempt on his life.

Mr Anwar was arrested by balaclava-clad police commandos on Wednesday, an hour before he was due to report to a police station, and released on Thursday morning. He refused to give a DNA sample.

"What is he afraid of? He can even have his own doctor present when the tests are carried out," taunted the home minister, Syed Hamid Albar.

Mr Anwar complains that the police have refused to reveal the evidence against him, but he says he has an alibi for "every minute of the day" when the alleged assault took place. He also claims that DNA evidence was falsified during his trial 10 years ago.

In Malaysia, sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

Dr Wan Azizah has a photograph showing her husband's accuser posing in the office of the powerful deputy prime minister, Najib Razak.

Mr Najib initially denied having ever met the young man, then changed his story. He later claimed that the university drop-out came to discuss scholarships with him. He categorically denies being involved in the sodomy allegations.

In the grand political drama playing out in Malaysia, Mr Najib and Mr Anwar are rivals to become the country's next prime minister. A product of English public school and Nottingham University, Mr Najib has politics in his blood – both his father and uncle were prime ministers. The current premier, Abdullah Badawi, has promised to hand power to him in 2010.

But Mr Najib is also facing potentially embarrassing problems of his own.

Two of his police bodyguards and one of his closest associates are on trial for murdering a young woman who was allegedly demanding her cut on a corrupt arms deal.

Altantuya Shaariibuu was murdered in 2006 and her body disposed of with military explosives. Mr Najib, who is the defence minister, denies ever meeting her or any knowledge of the killing but he continues to face fresh claims.

This week a prominent online journalist and minor royal, Prince Petra Kamarudin, was committed for trial on charges of criminal defamation for alleging Mr Najib may have been more closely linked than had been claimed. This has been denied, but Mr Anwar has done whatever he can to stoke the scandal.

"Everything is moving too fast and Anwar is gaining too much ground," claimed Dr Wan Azizah, who is leading the opposition in parliament until her husband is able to contest a by-election.

The Daily Telegraph asked Mr Najib's office and that of the home minister for an interview but neither was available.



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