Bruised Anwar still defiant as anger at his treatment grows

 

Mr Anwar Ibrahim had one word for the suggestion yesterday by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, that he beat himself up in police custody. "Bonkers," said the former deputy prime minister and finance minister, when asked for his reaction during his appearance in a court in Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning, his second in two days.

Still suffering body pains from a beating he alleged he received at the hands of the police after his arrest in the Malaysian capital on September 20th, Mr Anwar gave a defiant clenched-fist salute to the handful of supporters, his family and foreign reporters packed into the suburban court.

Mr Anwar, who, on Tuesday, was charged with five counts of corruption and four of sexual deviancy in the Kuala Lumpur sessions court, had a fifth charge added in a court in the district of Pataling Jaya - that of having committed sodomy with a fashion designer.

The case against Mr Anwar has begun to unravel, however, as two other men with whom he was charged with committing sodomy recanted their "confessions" and are appealing jail sentences of six months each.

Dr Mahathir yesterday showed every sign of his determination to brazen out the situation he finds himself in, with local and international condemnation of the imprisonment and brutal treatment of his former protege.

Dr Mahathir (72) said yesterday that Mr Anwar may have provoked the police or injured himself to gain sympathy. "According to various people this is not something which is impossible because he will get a lot of mileage if he could show he was tortured by the police," the prime minister told local editors. "I won't dare to say that he planned it, but there is a possibility he did something to cause the police to try to restrain him," Dr Mahathir said. He added that provoking the police would be an advantage for him and "his predictions that he will be tortured if he is detained have come true and this has won sympathy for him."

The former deputy prime minister's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, said at the courthouse yesterday morning: "I am shocked that a former medical doctor (Dr Mahathir) can say so without personally examining my husband. Malaysians should be aware of the deterioration of fundamental liberty and the dictatorial acts of Mahathir and show resolve and resilience to press for reforms and continue to reject corrupt leadership."

A doctor who examined Mr Anwar on Wednesday evening, after being appointed by the court at the request of his wife, backed his allegation that he had been beaten up while in police custody.

In court on Tuesday, Mr Anwar, whose left eye was swollen and blackened, described being punched to the head and knocked unconscious after his arrest.

"In my expert opinion, Anwar Ibrahim was assaulted over the left forehead and neck and received blunt trauma that resulted in residual bruises over the left upper and lower eyelids," Dr Ahmad Shukri Mohamed said in a written medical report. He added that the eyelid bruises resulted from blood tracking down the left forehead under the skin into the eyelid area and that the former government minister had residual tenderness over the left side of his neck.

There were some 500 riot police around the court in Pataling Jaya to prevent any demonstrations during Mr Anwar's appearance but a crowd of about 200 gathered to bear silent witness to the rising anger felt among Mr Anwar's supporters at his treatment. Despite the almost slavish loyalty of the Malaysian media to the government line, at least one mass circulation newspaper, the Sun, published a picture of Mr Anwar yesterday, clearly showing his blackened eye.

Dr Mahathir fired his deputy prime minister on September 2nd after serious differences had arisen between them over exchange controls which the prime minister imposed late in August in the face of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis in Malaysia. Mr Anwar had also been speaking out about corruption and the need for more democracy in the former British colony.

The Malaysian Bar Council yesterday condemned the police ill-treatment of Mr Anwar. "It cannot be imagined the physical trauma Anwar underwent as a human being and the travail of his soul during this period of his detention," it said.

Malaysia's major human rights organisation, Suaram, demanded that Dr Mahathir take full responsibility for the violence inflicted on his former deputy and that the inspector general of police should resign. Both had given assurances that he was well, it said, but they had misled the public. The group expressed great concern for the safety and well-being of the other 16 men detained with Mr Anwar under the Internal Security Act since September 20th.

"Already there are widespread reports of police brutality against peaceful protesters who were arrested by the police at Merdeka Square and other parts of Kuala Lumpur. Mr Tain Chua from Suaram who was sent to observe the situation on Sunday evening was arrested with other bystanders and subsequently beaten by the Federal Reserve Unit with batons, punched and kicked in his chest and stomach. This increasing violence by the police is shameful, unprofessional and shows their total disrespect for the rights of the public," the group stated.

The United States, Australia and Amnesty International led an international expression of concern over the treatment of Mr Anwar. A US State Department spokesman said: "We are deeply concerned . . . by reports of police brutality during the incarceration of Anwar."