Sunday, February 7, 2010

Anwar's trial in cyberspace too

Hazlin Hassan
The Straits Times
Publication Date: 07-02-2010

The sodomy trial of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is not only being fought in court but in cyberspace too, with increasing online chatter on blogs and news websites.

Anwar himself has been sending tweets from the dock, and people outside the court have been giving regular updates about the trial.

While online news sites report factually on what has been happening in court, many blogs have been busy dissecting the trial and positioning themselves for or against the former deputy prime minister.

Depending on their leanings, different blogs proclaimed what has been revealed so far showed that Anwar was guilty or that the trial was a sham.

Intimate details have been revealed. Among other things, two pairs of undergarments belonging to accuser Saiful Bukhari Azlan were displayed in court last Friday. They were Levi's underpants.

When one person tweeted about it, Anwar sent a tweet in reply: "underwear...levis. Oh oh".

When asked by a Twitter user how he could tweet while in the dock, Anwar replied: "Of course I can twitter in court; though not much since I've to listen, take notes and advise my counsel."

Bloggers such as Anil Netto gave regular updates of happenings at the court complex in the first three days of the trial.

Critics have said Anwar is not the only one on trial. The whole justice system, the police, the government and the mainstream media are also in the dock.

Lawyer Art Harun blogged that the prosecution should release evidence which the defence has asked for, a request which the Federal Court has rejected.

These include copies of CCTV recordings taken at the guardhouse of the scene of the alleged crime, and medical reports about tests being done on Saiful.

"The court cannot be said to be in the position to make a fair and just decision without looking at those evidence," he wrote.

The author of a blog called was of the opinion that Saiful's behaviour - meeting the then Deputy Premier Najib Razak for advice regarding being sodomised, avoiding cleaning himself or passing motion for two days - was "freakishly unusual".

But others take the opposite view, like the Gerakan Anti-PKR blog, which posted crude cartoons to push its view that Anwar was guilty as charged.

On news websites such Malaysiakini, there were plenty of comments posted by readers on whether they feel Anwar was guilty or innocent.

Law lecturer Azmi Sharom of Universiti Malaya said discussing or reporting on a case was not subjudice, pointing out that the concept was relevant only during jury trials.

"If jurors read it, then they would be influenced. But we don't have jury trials anymore. Unless the statements made are threatening to the judge or influences or interferes with the process of justice, it is not subjudice," he told The Straits Times.

One is guilty of being in contempt of court only if one has written something against the judge's orders, he added.

Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim warned bloggers last Friday that the authorities were monitoring blogs for elements of contempt or subjudice.

Blogs "can report on the case based on what transpired in court and in the interest of public knowledge, but we should not make comments which are subjudice", he said.

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