The most obvious was the theatrical display of
representatives from the 60-or-so legal and
human rights groups. Some of them
demanded preferential treatment, that
they be given priority over other
They insinuated that without their
presence, the trial would not be fair
The decision not to accord them observer
status sparked a controversy which led
to the foreign media alleging that Malaysia was afraid to let them witness the
(An observer is recognised by the court,
gets a reserved seat and can possibly
meet defence and prosecution counsel.
Lawyers holding watching brief, particularly for witnesses, can raise points of law in court.)
Three uninvited Filipino lawmakers also created a furore over their inability to get a place in court.
In the end, most of these foreigners managed to enter the space-constrained courtroom when they began queuing up, along with Malaysians, at 6am each day.
These representatives are right up to a
point. It is certainly unusual to reject
applications for observer status; doing
so gives the impression that they
have been shut out intentionally.
It is unprecedented in Malaysian legal history. And since it is an unpopular decision, Malaysia must be prepared to face the criticism and bad press.
But we shouldn't be unduly worried. The
trial has gone on smoothly. Local and
foreign journalists have reported the case at length. In some reports, full-page transcripts have been printed.
Anyone who has attended court
proceedings would know that the
goings-on outside the courtroom are
sometimes more interesting.
It has been a field day for fashion-conscious witnesses and even some politicians.
PAS president Datuk Fadzil Nor and his
party mates turned up at 10am and
expected to get a seat.
The fact that he did not get a seat was
good enough for him to create a ruckus.
Naturally, he did not disclose why he
Then, the fuss over whether Bahasa
Malaysia or English should be used was a
case of much ado about nothing because, finally, both languages were used interchangeably.
Ironically, on the table of High Court
judge Datuk S. Augustine Paul is a sign
declaring Gunakan Bahasa Kebangsaan and it
has been there for years.
It must have been a relief to most
people, not just foreigners, that the
first prosecution witness Datuk Said
Awang, the outgoing Special Branch director
chose to give his evidence in English.
Even then, the foreigners received invaluable translation services from volunteers, mainly law
Others complained that the proceedings
have been painfully slow. The judge
writes down every single word said in the proceedings.
It must seem archaic to representatives of human rights and legal groups who are accustomed to seeing
stenographers in American and Australian
Aliran has proposed that the trial be
televised live to discourage Malaysians from gathering outside the court in their attempts to follow
It is an attractive idea but the
Malaysian judiciary is still conservative. Unlike the American court system, the British system which we have inherited still does not accept cameras in court.
Photographers are not allowed in the
courtroom, let alone TV crew.
Our legal officers still go to court in
their black garb, bib and, until a
decade ago, some of the judges wore the
For the public, Said's testimony offered a rare peek into the operations of the Special Branch.
He told the court that he was ordered by
Anwar to obtain retractions from two people who
wrote letters to Prime Minister
Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad alleging Anwar's sexual misconduct.
The police, he said, went ahead to
“neutralise'' the two “targets'' Ummi
Hafilda Ali and Azizan Abu Bakar.
One foreign representative described the testimony as “chilling'' but those of
us who follow the work of the CIA are
unlikely to be surprised by such operative
What is more important, however, is whether it will be a fair trial
not what language is used, how
many foreign observers are allowed in, or live telecast of trial
The essence here is justice.
And because of the nature of this case,
the nation is also on trial, rightly or wrongly. World attention is on the
Every word printed by the media, both local and foreign, will be scrutinised and their credibility will be
on the line. The public deserves nothing
but the truth in the media
On this point, it is highly regrettable that the Asian edition of Time magazine has printed a survey based on 76,908 Internet votes.
According to the report, which will
appear in the coming issue, 93.7% of the
respondents found Anwar guilty, 6.52%
voted innocent and 0.39% said they don't
Although the magazine acknowledged that the poll was not scientific, the survey will only aggravate the anxiety of those involved in the trial.
It is best for the media to keep to
straight-forward reporting, without
having to resort to unnecessary commentary which may be sub judice.
We should let the legal process run its
course and not jump to conclusions at
We should also not cast doubt on the
judiciary. For those who do, they might
find it hard to eat their words if the
verdict favours them.