Global Politics

WikiLeaks ignites sex scandal Malaysia

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Image of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

By Jennifer Pak

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The WikiLeaks documents continue to cause reverberations around the world. They're having an impact in Malaysia. That's where the main opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, is on trial, accused of having sex with a male political aide. That's a serious criminal charge in the traditionally conservative country. Anwar has been fighting the allegation for years, saying it's a politically motivated. But one of the leaked State Department cables quotes officials suggesting that Anwar may in fact be guilty.

The cable, published in an Australian newspaper, dates back to November 2008. In it, Singaporean intelligence officials are quoted as telling their Australian counterpart that Anwar Ibrahim "did indeed commit the acts for which he is currently indicted" – in other words, the Singaporeans believe Anwar did commit sodomy. But the cables go on to suggest that Anwar was the victim of a political set-up, though he probably knew it and "still walked into it anyway."

Anwar has long denied the allegation, and he's been strenuously denying what's in the leaked cable. At a rally in the capital Kuala Lumpur, he demanded that Singaporean officials show proof of their claims.

"I'm for the freedom of information," he said. "So if they have any compelling evidence to suggest, it's ok. But basing this on hearsay or some scandalous attacks is irresponsible. So I have challenged them to produce the evidence and I will face them in court."

News of the leaked document has been widely reported in Malaysia. One influential Malay newspaper carried a headline that read: "Singapore spy agency verifies sodomy act."

Anwar's lawyers are considering legal action. They've warned the media against publishing the allegations, saying it could influence the ongoing trial.

But that hasn't deterred Malaysia's mainstream press, which is linked to the government -- no friend of Anwar's.

The mainstream press continues to carry not so subtle jabs at Anwar.

Anwar's party's strategist Tian Chua says the ruling coalition is playing with fire.

"While they try to sensationalize the cable relating to Anwar, at the same time there are other cables that reveal even more demeaning comments about the ruling party."

Indeed, senior Singaporean officials were also quoted in the leaked cables as saying that Malaysia's leadership is incompetent, and that Prime Minister Najib Razak is an "opportunist," whose political fortunes continue to be plagued by a high-profile murder scandal.

Malaysia's foreign minister Anifah Aman protested to the Singaporeans in a letter.

"The most important thing," he said, "is that we conveyed our feelings, our displeasure towards those kinds of statements."

Singapore responded by casting doubt on the cables, saying that some of the disparaging remarks attributed to Singaporean officials did not match their records and that one purported meeting didn't even take place.

Meanwhile, the leaks haven't swayed Anwar's supporters.

Many of them continue to believe that the charge against him is politically motivated.

"I don't believe the charges," this man said at an Anwar rally in Kuala Lumpur. "Anwar is a good." He hopes that Anwar will be elected prime minister next year. He says it doesn't matter whether Anwar is guilty of the charges.

Another woman at the rally added, "Since the beginning of the trial, we still haven't seen any proof that he did it. That is why we don't care. Only god knows if he did something wrong. So it's between him and god."

Anwar's sodomy trial has dragged on for months.

His lawyers are still fighting to gain access to key documents, which has slowed the process.

It's a political gamble. Anwar may want a fair hearing in court, but it takes his focus away from the election, which is widely expected to be called as early as next year.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.

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