On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Let the legal process run its course

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
and open.

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
was late.

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
the proceedings.

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
horse-hair  wig.

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
country's institutions.

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
this point.

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.