Contrasting political climes in S’pore & M’sia

Economist magazine apologises to Singapore PM
2 September 2004

International news magazine, The Economist, has apologised to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and has agreed to pay 127,000 pounds in damages over an article on a government company run by his wife.

It issued a public apology to the newly sworn-in leader and Singapore’s modern founder, his 80-year-old father Lee Kuan Yew, for the report on the city-state’s investment agency Temasek Holdings, headed by the prime minister’s wife Ho Ching.

Singapore’s government has countered concerns about the appointment of Lee family members to state-linked companies, with arguments about a shortage of talent and Singapore’s need to be steered by an elite who know the ropes.

A spokesman for the Economist confirmed the amount of damages. State-controlled Channel News Asia reported that the Lees would donate the money to charity.

The Economist, half-owned by publisher Pearson, published an apology on its Web site for its August 14 article entitled “Temasek, First Singapore, next the world”, which focuses on Temasek’s recent aggressive expansion.

In the apology, The Economist said its “allegations are false and completely without foundation” and agreed to compensate both Prime Minister Lee and his father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew for the “distress and embarrassment”.

Economist Editor Bill Emmott told Reuters that the magazine’s reporting in Singapore would not be constrained as a result of the settlement, but declined further commment.

Ho Ching was appointed in May 2002 as executive director of Temasek, which owns stakes in about 40 of the nation’s biggest companies, including Singapore Airlines, Singapore Telecommunications and banking giant DBS Group.

Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong, replaced by Lee on August 12, said a year ago that his successor may find it “awkward” as prime minister to defend his wife’s top position at Temasek.

Foreign news organisations which have succumbed to Singapore’s libel laws include The Asian Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune and Bloomberg LP, which paid damages in a case involving the Lee family and Temasek in 2002.

In January, an Italian court rejected a libel case brought against the Economist by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The court in Rome ruled it did not have jurisdiction over the case, which concerned an Economist article claiming Berlusconi was “unfit to lead Italy.”

Anwar free after six years
Connie Levett
The Age
3 September 2004

The Malaysian High Court, in a stunning reversal of fortune, has overturned the controversial sodomy conviction of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, allowing him to walk free after six years behind bars.

Mr Anwar, who seemed surprised by the decision, told reporters in the courtroom he felt vindicated but bore no malice towards retired prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, seen as the force behind the widely discredited prosecution.

The release of Dr Mahathir’s old foe, which follows proposed trade talks with Australia and warmer relations with Singapore, suggests the influence of the former leader may be waning.

“I bear no malice against him. Let him retire,” Mr Anwar said in his first remarks to reporters after the three-judge panel announced a two-one verdict overturning his sodomy conviction.

Mr Anwar was detained in 1998 soon after he was sacked by Dr Mahathir.

He has always claimed the charges of sodomy and corruption were trumped up to prevent him from making a challenge for the leadership.

Dr Mahathir said yesterday he would “not lose any sleep” over a court’s decision to free his former deputy and old foe.

“As far as I am concerned, I’m convinced that what I know is right. I still believe he’s guilty,” he said.

Steve Gan, chief editor of Malaysiakini, an independent website that has campaigned strongly against Mr Anwar’s detention, said everyone was surprised by the decision.

“Politically it speaks well for (Prime Minister Abdullah) Badawi that the court has finally freed Anwar,” he said.

The High Court hearing was Mr Anwar’s final avenue of appeal against his 1999 conviction for sodomy that was widely seen as politically motivated.

Judge Abdul Hamid Mohamad, taking more than one-and-a-half hours to read out the verdict, said: “We are not prepared to uphold the conviction. We therefore allow this appeal and set aside the conviction and the sentence.”

As it became apparent to Mr Anwar, 57, that the court would uphold his appeal, he gave a thumbs-up sign to family and supporters.

Hundreds of Anwar supporters cheered outside the court building after the verdict was announced. Judge Abdul Hamid said that the conviction was flawed because the prosecution’s chief witness, Azizan Abubakar, had repeatedly changed the dates when he claimed Mr Anwar had committed homosexual acts with him. Mr Azizan was a driver for Mr Anwar’s wife.

“I feel vindicated,” said Mr Anwar, wearing a neck brace and confined to a wheelchair. “This is all about justice. I bear malice against no one.”

He left the Federal Court in Putrajaya with his wife, Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, in an unmarked van.

After his release, Mr Anwar spoke to reporters on the terrace of his Kuala Lumpur house and urged Mr Abdullah to free all political detainees. “Hundreds of others are being persecuted maliciously as political tools. This needs to be corrected.”

Mr Anwar will fly to Germany for surgery as soon as he can get a passport. His back problems are believed to stem in part from a police beating he received at the time of his arrest.

Dr Azizah, a member of parliament for the Parti Keadilan Nasional founded by Mr Anwar, said her husband’s movements were restricted because of the pain and doctors had advised immediate surgery.

She had pleaded with Malaysia’s leader, Mr Abdullah, last month for permission for her husband to travel to Germany.

“We are hoping and praying for a favourable response from the Prime Minister because I think he understands very much better than many people because his wife is unwell,” Dr Azizah said.

She has criticised the Australian Government in recent weeks for its lack of action on the case.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer welcomed Mr Anwar’s release, saying: “The Australian Government has been watching closely and with interest Mr Anwar’s case.”