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Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Conviction of Malaysian
ex-official is a travesty

Bullet The issue: Anwar Ibrahim, former deputy prime minister and finance minister of Malaysia, was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Bullet Our view: The verdict and sentence were a travesty of justice and reflect badly on Prime Minster Mahathir Mohamad.

THE regime of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has disgraced itself again with a legal charade that has justified the persecution of a former high official who incurred Mahathir's wrath.

The former deputy prime minister and finance minister, Anwar Ibrahim, was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison. The sentence was added to a six-year sentence that Anwar is currently serving on a previous conviction for corruption.

The State Department issued a statement saying the United States "is very distressed" by Anwar's conviction and "outraged by the sentence."

U.S. concerns regarding the trial included prosecution changes in the dates of the alleged offenses, police coaching of key witnesses and charging one of Anwar's lawyers with sedition for statements he made in court. In addition, the court refused to allow Anwar to call key witnesses who might have bolstered his contention that he was the victim of a political conspiracy.

World Bank President James Wolfensohn said he was deeply distressed by the sentence. "Anwar is not only a friend and a valued colleague, he was a distinguished chairman of our development committee and a man who believed in speaking his mind," Wolfensohn said.

Defense Secretary William Cohen, who is visiting Southeast Asia next month, has left Malaysia off his itinerary, a further indication of Washington's displeasure.

Param Cumaraswamy, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, called the verdict "vicious" and a "travesty of justice in the extreme."

Judge Arifin Jaka justified his sentence by saying, "Sodomy is a despicable act in our society and must be met with utmost condemnation." Anwar shouted from the prisoner's dock, "Congratulations, My Lord, you have completed Mahathir's plan."

Sacked in September 1998, Anwar had testified that Mahathir and his associates framed him to drive him from office and stave off a leadership challenge.

Anwar broke with Mahathir over Malaysia's response to the Asian economic crisis, which Mahathir blamed on Jewish international financiers.

Malaysia, a former British colony, used to be considered a democracy with an independent judiciary. But Mahathir's shameful treatment of Anwar -- aided by a compliant legal system -- has destroyed that reputation.

Terrorism in Russia

Bullet The issue: Chechen separatists are suspected in the bombing of a busy underpass in downtown Moscow.

Bullet Our view: Russian authorities should respond by prosecuting those responsible, not by escalating the war in Chechnya.

CHECHEN rebels were blamed nearly a year ago for a series of bombings that terrified Russians and caused hundreds of deaths. Although Russian investigators have yet to prove Chechen involvement in those explosions, the tendency is to blame a new bombing in downtown Moscow on the same separatist movement. However, even if Chechen ties are proved, the Kremlin should not respond by escalating the war in Chechnya.

During a period of little more than two weeks in 1999, six bombings in Moscow, the southern city of Volgadonsk and Dagestan province killed nearly 300 civilians and injured more than 200. A few days later, Russian warplanes bombed the Chechen capital of Grozny for the first time since the 1994-1996 war, which ended with Russian troops withdrawing from the region; it has been mired in guerrilla war since then.

A rush-hour explosion yesterday in a busy pedestrian underpass beneath Pushkin Square, a popular meeting place, killed seven civilians and injured dozens more. Police reportedly arrested two men from the Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya, in connection with the blast.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said witnesses reported that two men had left a bag at a small shop in the underpass shortly before the explosion occurred. Luzhkov denounced the blast as "100 percent Chechnya." An explosives expert said indications are that the explosion was caused by a bomb equivalent to one to three pounds of TNT.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin summoned his cabinet to discuss the explosion, and the Moscow prosecutor's office has begun a criminal investigation.

Russians have every reason to be frightened and irate about the Pushkin Square bombing and the possibility that it could presage a new wave of terrorist acts. The proper response should be heightened security among Muscovites and vigilance by authorities in bringing the culprits to justice -- not retaliation against the Chechens.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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