Unlike Anwar, my conscience not for sale, says ex-speechwriter

Munawar Anees (right) says he does not want a royal pardon such as the one granted to Anwar Ibrahim.

KUALA LUMPUR: The former speechwriter of Anwar Ibrahim who once stunned the nation with grim details of how he was tortured and forced into confessing to sodomy has issued a cryptic warning about the PKR leader, as he spoke of contrasting treatments given to him and Anwar who is now on the threshold of power following a royal pardon.

Munawar Anees today, 20 years after his ordeal during the 1998 political crisis.

“If Anwar Ibrahim sought and got that pardon for political expediency, it does not mean that I should emulate his example. If he is at peace with his conscience by admitting to the guilt for the sake of pardon, so be it,” Dr Munawar Anees told FMT in an exclusive interview.

“My conscience is not for sale,” he said, as he recalled the days after Anwar’s dramatic sacking in September 1998 by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, when he was handcuffed and whisked away by about a dozen men who came to his house in Petaling Jaya, arresting him under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The next five days, as Anees had detailed in a shocking affidavit issued in November of that year, were the darkest days of his life.

Special Branch “thugs”, as he still calls them today, employed various tactics, some too sexually explicit to be included in a news report, to force him into confessing that he had sex with men, including Anwar.

Fatima Belhadi (right), the wife of Munawar Anees, outside a court in November 1998. (AFP pic)

“They stripped me of all self-respect; they degraded me and broke down my will and resistance; they threatened me and my family; they frightened me; they brainwashed me to the extent that I ended up in court on Sept 19, 1998 a shivering shell of a man willing to do anything to stop the destruction of my being,” he wrote in an affidavit prepared while serving his jail sentence, following a half-an-hour trial which found him guilty of sodomy.

After his release, he left for the United States, taking with him the bitterness of a man whose life was turned upside down.

“Rebuilding a totally shattered life was a monumental task,” he told FMT.

The stigma of a “criminal convict” meant that even someone of his calibre – with a doctorate in biology from Indiana University, a founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion at Cambridge University, and among a select group of 40 scholars listed under Unesco’s Intellectuals of the World – found it impossible to get a job.

“Beyond severe economic deprivation, the brutality of social stigma persists, even today,” said Anees, who eventually was hired as consultant in an academic foundation of American philanthropist Sir John Templeton.

Still, Anees, 70, rejects the idea of seeking a pardon, and still longs for his day in court to prove his innocence.

He revealed that he had met with Mahathir in 2008, some 10 years after his ordeal, and made peace with the veteran leader he once condemned after what he went through under ISA.

“I made it clear to him that I am an innocent person. Dr Mahathir was gracious enough not to contest my statement by saying that he acted at the behest of then inspector general of police (Abdul Rahim Noor),” he said.

Anees makes no secret of his admiration for Mahathir, calling him a “self-respecting visionary” who transformed Malaysia’s economy.

“He provided a leadership that brought confidence in the minds of people. He enacted mechanisms to reduce social disparity,” he said.

The same words were not reserved for Anwar, the man he once worked with.

“Knowing Anwar Ibrahim and his work style for so long, my advice to him is to reflect deeply on his ambitions,” said Anees.

Munawar Anees when he appeared in court in 1998.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

On his arrest under ISA and jailing in 1998

I object to the use of the word “arrested” for my person. For all purposes, it was a broad daylight kidnapping by Special Branch thugs in plain clothes. The Gestapo-style action may continue to be portrayed as “arrest” but I will never accept this heinous attempt to rob me of my innocence. Similarly, being “jailed” was nothing but an extension of the same atrocity that led to my kidnapping in front of my wife.

On the Malaysian judiciary

The sham verdict orchestrated by a kangaroo court for detaining a severely tortured person cannot stand the test of law. These two words will continue to haunt the conscience of the Malaysian legal community who preferred timely gain over siding with justice, betraying the cause of their own profession.

On recovering from the trauma

After regaining my freedom, I stayed with my mother and other family members in Islamabad for a few weeks and then returned to my permanent home in America. For the next two years, I underwent intensive rehabilitation and uninterrupted medical care, including a suicide watch. Slowly, I began to reacquire my writing ability and the memory started to become stable. My wife and children visited me from Paris.

I owe this new lease on my life to none other than my saviour, Manjeet Singh Dhillon who, at great risks to his own life, established a shining tradition of altruism. As my legal counsel, he never wavered in his fight for justice.

On life after Malaysia

Rebuilding a totally shattered life was a monumental task. Again, my wife played a critical role in protecting and supporting our children under such difficult circumstances. But I soon realised that the internet had become both my benefactor and nemesis. While the website “Friends of Dr. Anees” earned for me global sympathy, the same was not true for my prospective employers whose databases showed me as a “convicted criminal.” It was an ironic fallout of a dehumanised society, ruled by electronic pulses.

It was impossible to tell anyone how a “Prisoner of Conscience,” as declared by Amnesty International, had become a distressed victim who was being denied his rightful status in society. But Margaret John from Amnesty Canada always kept my hopes alive.

On financial downhill and social stigma

Beyond severe economic deprivation, the brutality of social stigma persists, even today. With my innocence perpetually suspect, inflated egos always greet me with a smirk on their face. Someone who has maintained a relationship of respect for a number of years suddenly makes a Google discovery and the new perspective begins to cast a dark shadow.

Violation of human rights for political or other nefarious gains leaves indelible marks on the life and body of the victims. Irreversible is the transformation of their life and their loved ones. Victims have little or no legal, financial, and social mechanism to redress their grievances.

Once you fall a prey in the hands of criminals operating under the umbrella of state authority, you are a living dead for the rest of your life. And the perpetrators escape with impunity enjoying the so-called legal cover.

On some ‘political prisoners’

The irony of shifting political tides is that yesterday’s political prisoners can become tomorrow’s power players, and principles are forsaken for political expediency and opportunism. Meanwhile, those with only their conscience and no political agenda are forgotten. They are deemed an inconvenience. No justice or redress for them.

On his bitter departure from Malaysia

The cruelty did not come from Malaysia. It came from a few Malaysian individuals who happened to be living in that country. They acted against all norms of civilised behaviour. Any legitimisation of my kidnapping and subsequent torture under this or that act is patently absurd. I reject it, totally.

On seeking justice

Those responsible for these criminal acts and the destruction of my normal life must be punished. I demand appropriate compensation for the huge losses that I continue to incur for the last two decades. I have a claim on Malaysia. No evasive tactics or legal façade can dilute it. If not in my life, my progeny will keep Malaysia busy in paying the huge debt.

On making peace with Dr Mahathir

In my first and last face-to-face meeting with Dr Mahathir, in the presence of his wife Dr Siti Hasmah Ali and a common friend at his residence, in 2008, I made it clear to him that I am an innocent person. Dr Mahathir was gracious enough not to contest my statement by saying that he acted at the behest of then inspector-general of police Abdul Rahim Noor. That certain criminal elements within the government tried to settle scores between Dr Mahathir and Anwar by making me a pawn is unacceptable and unforgivable.

On Anwar’s wife or daughter vacating the seat for him

Whether or not any amount of ringgit changed hands for Anwar’s debut in Port Dickson, vacating a seat either by Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail or Nurul Izzah would have put a stop to the practice of spousal and dynastic politics.

Nurul Izzah could have vacated her seat for her Papa – in line with their slogan: “Justice for Papa!”

If she failed to keep alive the spirit of the individualised “Justice for Papa” slogan then the good old Wan Azizah could have stepped in for her distraught husband. But perhaps being deputy prime minister, even if no more than the prowess of a toothless tiger, is too much to lose.

On Saiful contesting against Anwar

Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the “office boy” whom Anwar was found guilty of sodomising, is contesting there as an independent, among others. What a twist of fate for Anwar!

As if to rub salt in the wound, Siti Kassim and others from Concerned Lawyers for Justice are challenging the eligibility of Anwar to contest the by-election by touting the “full pardon” card.

On pardon for Anwar

What sort of “full pardon” is this that totally ignores the onus that the Malaysian court put on his shoulders by proclaiming his participation in an act of sodomy? Perhaps the infantile legal community in Malaysia needs to be taught that it takes two to tango. So when will the legal action be initiated against him for taking part in an act of sodomy? When will the world see Anwar being called to stand in the dock? When will Anwar rise up to clear his name wherein a kangaroo court “convicted” me but left him alone?

On being pardoned ala Anwar

Pardon implies admission of guilt. If Anwar sought and got that pardon for political expediency it does not mean that I should emulate his example. If he is at peace with his conscience by admitting the guilt for the sake of pardon, so be it.

My conscience is not for sale. I make a firm demand that Malaysia, respecting my fundamental right, must allow me to appear in a court of law to present my case.

For the last two decades, it has been a one-sided story, the official propaganda, a pack of lies, a construct out of torture, a sham and a shame to the legal and bureaucratic profession. Let the truth be told. Let me speak. I seek no pardon. I seek justice.

On Dr Mahathir today

Dr Mahathir is an astute politician. He knows tenacity. He is a self-respecting visionary. Good leadership requires all these qualities, and more.

I admire him for his life-long service to the nation. I was an eyewitness to a sleepy Kuala Lumpur in the mid-80s. He took the same bunch of people to the heights of economic dynamism. He provided a leadership that brought confidence in the minds of people. He enacted mechanisms to reduce social disparity.

Yes, he has changed. He now is more politically enlightened to the point that he succeeded in a comeback after a gap of 15 years. A phenomenal achievement to earn the distinction of the world’s oldest statesman in power. He has won both moral and political victory over his old nemesis Anwar. That is a big change.

On Anwar’s ‘outdated style’

Knowing Anwar and his work style for so long, my advice to him is to reflect deeply on his ambitions. The Islamic card seems to have lost its lustre. Ethnic politics is an arid land. Euro-American multiculturalism is kaput.

Instead of trying to outsmart him, he should learn from his old mentor, Dr Mahathir. In the domain of “intellectual discourse” he should come up with something original and carve a niche for himself, if he can.

Reformasi too is a dead horse. So he really needs to hush to devote some time to the deepest reflection on what the future holds for him.

Anwar’s confrontational and supremacist attitude has hurt him in the past and will in the future. He needs to get a grip on the ground reality. American favouritism is ephemeral and so is the attempt to escape the charge of anti-Semitism: he does not need appeasement of the Jewish lobby. One can deal with these issues without compromising certain fundamental values.

An anecdote for Anwar

I am lucky to have met Sir John Templeton during my quest for gainful employment after the Malaysian tragedy. I did serve as a Special Consultant to the Foundation named after him. The Foundation spends over US$22 million a year on research grants. An annual Templeton Award worth over US$1.5 million is given in the domain of religion and science. During one of the meetings of the Board of Trustees, I found myself seated next to a young lady with the surname Templeton. She turned out to be the granddaughter of Sir John Templeton and was serving as an elementary school teacher.

All that reminded me of the core philosophy of Sir John Templeton: Humility. That young lady was an icon of that supreme value. Perhaps this little tale would come to inspire Anwar Ibrahim towards humility.

On Barisan Nasional’s defeat

The politics of the country seems to have followed a path of maturity. Umno’s demise is a landmark in Malaysian politics as it strengthened inter-ethnic relations.

Pakatan Harapan is another example of evolution of integrated politics in the country. There seems to be greater freedom in the country, with the press putting up a responsible face. Economic difficulties persist but I hope corrective measures would help Malaysia regain its strength.