BANGKOK – Like Jarndyce versus Jarndyce in the novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens, the sodomy trial of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim seems to drag on forever.
It has become both a sick joke and a byword for interminable legal proceedings – seasoned with a typically Malaysian and profoundly unsavoury political dimension.
Anwar, a 63-year-old former deputy prime minister, is accused of having sex with a 25-year-old male aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, two years ago.
This month, his lawyer, Karpal Singh, was again stonewalled by the prosecution, namely the government, which has refused to furnish medical reports that allegedly prove Saiful was sodomised.
Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak initially denied knowing Saiful. Then, when Saiful admitted meeting the PM before pressing charges, Najib suddenly remembered that he had indeed met Saiful.
Said Karpal: “They are all out to put Anwar in jail again. There is no doubt in my mind.”
A decade ago, after being given a black eye by the police chief and enduring a sordid show trial during which a stained mattress was left in the courtroom, Anwar was convicted of sodomy and corruption.
He spent six years in jail before that first sodomy conviction was dismissed on appeal and he was released.
Anwar, who is married with six children, claimed those first charges were trumped up by former premier Mahathir Mohamad to avert a leadership challenge.
He now says the second charges were fabricated to thwart his opposition alliance, which won five of Malaysia’s 13 states in the last election and denied the government a two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time ever.
I frequently interviewed Anwar, as well as Najib and Mahathir, and for that matter Karpal, during my five years in Kuala Lumpur in the 1990s.
The brilliant, quicksilver Anwar was always the one who stood out, although not always for the best of reasons.
The fact is, there has always been something, and I use the word advisedly, queer about Anwar. It always seemed that what you saw was never quite what you got.
Yes, he was accessible, amiable and open – up to a point.
Asked if he were gay, he would smile and answer in that soft purr:
“Roger, come on, please....” And you would think: My God, he could be!
Then you would think: So what? There have been known gay ministers in Singapore, Thailand and elsewhere in the region, including Muslims, and they were never beaten up in custody and hounded out of office.
It is time Malaysia grew up and adopted the adage of the late Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who said: “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.”
Even the staid US congress has recently agreed to abolish the silly “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule about homosexuals in the military. If macho soldiers can fight beside openly gay colleagues, it’s hard to figure why supposedly intelligent politicians cannot do the same.