(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): The world attention is focussed on the Malaysian judicial system when the Anwar Ibrahim trial starts on Monday.
Malaysians must admit that since the 1988 judiciary crisis, when the then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and two Supreme Court judges were dismissed in an arbitrary exercise of executive power, national and international confidence in the independence and integrity of the Malaysia judiciary had suffered a setback which has not recovered till today.
What particularly concerns national and international opinion about the Anwar Ibrahim case is that this is the latest example of another flagrant and wanton abuse of executive power in Malaysia - which is completely antithetical to the rule of law.
The Judiciary should accommodate both national and international interests and concerns about the Anwar trial on Monday and accord observer status for international and local organisations as well as arrange for adequate seating for local and international media and interested foreign and local personalities.
In order to accommodate such national and international interests and concerns in the Anwar trial, the High Court should ensure adequate seating for the national and international media and interested local and foreign personalities, including the observers of foreign governments and several Filipino congressmen who have announced their intention to attend the trial.
The High Court should if necessary be moved to larger premises declared as a High Court for the purpose, just as the Police Training Centre (Pulapol) in Jalan Semarak was yesterday converted into a magistrate’s court to hear charges against 178 persons in connection with unlawful assembly and riots in Kampong Baru last week.
The recent statement by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that foreigners are free to attend the trial but would not be given special treatment by being accorded the status of ‘observers’ raises not only the question about the independence of the judiciary in Malaysia, but flies in the face of past precedents where international organisations like the Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists had been granted observer status.
The public pronouncement by the Chief Justice, Tun Eusoff Chin, that the Anwar trial must be conducted in Bahasa Malaysia is most unfortunate as it has brought into sharp focus the question articulated by the counsel for Anwar Ibrahim, Raja Aziz Addruse that "If the trial judge could be dictated to and his order overruled by a mere circular of the Chief Justice, can anyone be sure that influence will not be brought to bear on the trial judge on other issues?"
The trial judge in the Anwar case must be allowed to conduct the proceedings to ensure that "justice is not only done, but seen to be done" without any interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter.