Anwar Ibrahim’s Jail Sentence: an American Lens, a Burmese Parallel
On February 10 Malaysia’s Court of Appeal sentenced Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years of jail on the grounds of having sodomized his former aide, Saiful Azlan, under Section 377B of the Penal Code. This is the second time Anwar Ibrahim has been charged for sodomy since 2008, the year he took up the mantle of opposition leader, albeit of a weakly united coalition of three political parties.
The consequence of his imprisonment too conveniently disqualifies him from running for a seat in Parliament in the next general election, slated for 2018. Additionally it prevents him from securing, by de facto, the position of Prime Minister that would end more than 60 years of Barisan Nasional—the ruling coalition—rule. But Anwar’s imprisonment implies more than just the disadvantage the opposition faces for the next years to come, at least for now. It is also the American reaction, or rather, the lack of reaction to the sentence that further signifies the Obama Administration’s half-hearted commitment to ensuring that human rights is upheld in all parts of the international community.
While Independent Senator Nick Xenophon from Australia urges his government to impose sanctions on Malaysia for an “injustice” imposed by a “repressive and ruthless regime”, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, Jan Psaki, expressed American concern regarding the “the Anwar case” and moved on to remark that later that day American officials were to meet with the Malaysian Department of Defense to discuss the Islamic State. In other words, business was to carry on as usual.
This is not the first time the American government has exercised double standards when dealing with Malaysia, or any state for that matter. While Prime Minister Najib Razak was criticized for playing golf last December with President Barack Obama in Hawaii during a national relief effort to aid those affected by the floods on Malaysia’s east coast, it seems that the latter should also have been criticized. The criticism, as negligible as it seems at the moment in time, should be more than justified looking back. Had President Obama been playing golf in Hawaii with President Thein Sein of Burma and refused to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, who is essentially Anwar’s counterpart in the world’s ongoing resistance movements to unjust regimes, the news outlets would have put him under the scope and lambasted his inability to exemplify political integrity.
Just like he visited Aung San Suu Kyi and gave weight to the remarkable efforts the Titanium Orchid, as she is affectionately known, brought forth for her people, for democracy, President Obama’s direct intervention and bold action to acknowledge all that Anwar has done for his people and all that the current regime has unjustly done to its people, is long overdue. For Malaysia’s own Aung San Suu Kyi has not just been jailed, but has been put back into his cage, one he has known for more than six years.
The ball is now in America’s court. If he, as President, is truly to serve as the leader of the world’s bastion of justice and democracy, for which he has only paid lip service for the majority of his presidency, then he will do more than to satisfy his mild conscience and owe up to the status of an office long bereft of sterling moral values that were once so honorably upheld through both speech and action. True, Anwar Ibrahim has not been confined to a life of solitude for as long as Aung San Suu Kyi has. And yet, his larger-than-life personality and dreams and aspirations for his country and his people stands in parallel to the latter’s, if not—dare I say—more.
Photos: The Guardian (left), Malaysian Review (right)