International Papers

Malaysian Malarkey 

The sodomy conviction earlier this week of former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim drew universal condemnation. Most coverage painted the prosecution as an attempt by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Asia’s longest-serving head of state, to end the political career of his former protégé, whom he fired after a disagreement on how to handle the Asian economic crisis. The Times of London said that the “roots of Dr Mahathir’s vendetta lie not in disagreement over economic policy, but in the jealousy and suspicion of an elderly autocrat of a younger, ambitious man.” Britain’s Independent called the proceedings “an unqualified disgrace for [Mahathir’s] country and for a judicial system that has presided over a show trial that would have done Joseph Stalin proud.” Since Anwar was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment—to be served after a six-year stretch for corruption handed down last year—which will be followed by a five-year ban from office, his political career is almost certainly over.

Anwar was found guilty of sodomizing a former family chauffeur despite many procedural “irregularities” in the trial that suggest that he might have been framed. According to the Guardian, these included:

 [T]he beating of the defendant by police; the retraction of testimony by prosecution witnesses who said they had been coerced and physically abused; the arrest for sedition of one of Anwar’s attorneys for statements made in open court; an apparent contempt by … Mahathir … who publicly proclaimed Anwar’s guilt despite the court’s specific instruction to refrain from comment; and the unreliable evidence of the discomfited chauffeur … who told the court police had coached him on his testimony.

The Independent took comfort in the nakedness of the injustice: “At least the verdict will dispel any lingering doubts about the miserable state of human rights in Malaysia.” The Sydney Morning Herald declared that “[T]he moral position of Anwar, convicted sodomite, looks far stronger than that of Dr Mahathir, maker of modern Malaysia.” Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post agreed, saying:

It cannot be comfortable to live under a system where sodomy is judged a greater crime than corruption. Or where verdicts are based on discredited evidence, or on statements later retracted on grounds they were made under duress.

In Europe, a fresh wave of political violence, highlighted by bomb explosions in Russia and Spain and political assassinations in Spain and Corsica, dominated the papers. In Moscow, an explosion killed seven and, according to the Moscow Times, put “the city on edge again.” In Spain, four incidents involving the Basque separatist group ETA left six people dead and 11 injured, prompting silent protests at town halls across the country. In Corsica, a leading nationalist and his bodyguard were killed shortly after the island’s regional assembly approved a plan to take some legislative powers from France. An editorial in the Scotsman, a paper somewhat sympathetic to Scottish nationalism, said:

The bombs which exploded across Europe … tell a tale of two kinds of nationalism. One is an ugly creed based on a false notion of ethnicity. An ethnic nationalism which defines itself by an unscientific and false concept of race. A nationalism of us and them. … But there is another—civic—kind of nationalism. One where all, regardless of race, religion or class are inclusive citizens of the nation. It is a concept that has been built slowly and painfully, based on the rule of law, human rights and a working democracy. … It is the civic, inclusive version of national identity that needs to triumph.

(The online versions of Spanish newspapers have a somewhat morbid fascination with graphic reconstructions of terrorist actions and “photo galleries” of murder scenes and funerals; click here for El Mundo’s reconstruction of the murder of Second Lieut. Francisco Casanova Vicente, here for El País’. Here is El Mundo’s photographic record of this week’s violence; here is El País’ version.)

U.S. election corner: In an editorial headlined, “A Jew for the White House,” the Jerusalem Post said that the selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman as Al Gore’s running mate “sends a positive signal to American Jews in terms of their own ethnic and religious survival.” It continued:

During the last 30 years, a remarkable number of cabinet members have gained office after converting to Christianity. Lieberman’s case shows that faithfulness to one’s people does not bar the way to the highest positions, and that the assimilation process can have a limit without that boundary having a cost.

Follow-up corner: Monday’s “International Papers” column focused on two stories, the Sri Lankan president’s attempt to amend the constitution to end ethnic strife, and the grilling of Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid at the nation’s consultative assembly. In Sri Lanka, the reform bill was withdrawn after the government realized it could not achieve the required two-thirds majority. According to the Guardian, “10 opposition members who favoured the new constitution were flown out of the country by their party to prevent them from voting.” In Indonesia, Abdurrahman announced Wednesday that he would hand over day-to-day administration to Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri. The Age of Melbourne, seeing “bad omens” in the retreat, said:

Although [Abdurrahman] probably had little choice but to defer to the realpolitik of Jakarta’s febrile factionalism—or risk losing everything—this is not an encouraging sign for democratic aspirations in Indonesia. It smacks of a cynical, make-do compromise at a time when stable and steadfast leadership is needed.

Last of the Soviet egomaniacs: Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune carried a fascinating dispatch from Turkmenistan, the “Stalinist Disneyland” of Central Asia. The nation’s capital is dominated by a 40-foot golden effigy of President-for-Life Saparmurat Niyazov (a k a “Turkmenbashi”—”head of all Turkmen”) that “turns with the hours, so Turkmenbashi’s outstretched arm always seems to be holding the sun and offering it to the people below.” Mandatory school attendance was recently cut to nine years, making it “nearly impossible” for Turkmen students to gain acceptance in Russian universities, but education hasn’t been abandoned totally: Every day “schoolchildren repeat a daily vow that thoughts against the leader are treason.”