Comments made in response to defamation lawsuit filed by Ibrahim
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said April 14 he had a moral duty to accuse his ex-heir apparent of being gay, because it was “unimaginable” to let a gay man lead Malaysia.
Mahathir’s remark came in his rebuttal of a defamation lawsuit filed by his ousted deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, who has demanded unspecified damages and an injunction to prevent Mahathir from repeating the allegations.
Anwar’s suit is “scandalous, frivolous and vexatious, and … an abuse of the [legal] process,” Mahathir said in a 38-page statement filed April 14 in the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
Mahathir will “defend his case vigorously,” said his lawyer, V.K. Lingam.
Anwar, now one of Malaysia’s most prominent opposition politicians, sued Mahathir in January for reiterating last year that he fired Anwar in 1998 because Anwar’s alleged sexual orientation made him unfit for office.
Before suing his former mentor, Anwar demanded an apology and damages totaling $27.7 million from Mahathir, whose refusal touched off a legal battle that could bring the two foes face-to-face in court for the first time since Anwar’s sacking.
Mahathir, who retired in 2003 after 22 years in power, said in his statement that he was “under a clear and compelling social [and] moral duty” to repeat his allegations about Anwar at a human rights seminar last September.
The comment was “to the effect that it would be unimaginable or unthinkable to have a gay prime minister in Malaysia,” which has a largely Muslim population and considers sodomy a criminal offense punishable by prison and whipping, the statement said.
Mahathir said his remark explained “it was unacceptable to have a homosexual in his Cabinet … particularly when such a person could later succeed him and become the prime minister.”
Anwar’s lawyer, Sankara Nair, said he would decide within a few weeks whether to respond to Mahathir’s latest statement or take it to a court hearing.
In his suit, Anwar has accused Mahathir of speaking “falsely and maliciously,” adding that his reputation was “gravely injured” by the allegations.
Anwar was Malaysia’s No. 2 leader for five years under Mahathir before they fell out over policy disagreements during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.
Mahathir fired Anwar in Sept-ember 1998, accusing him of being gay.
Anwar was subsequently arrested, tried on corruption and sodomy charges, and sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison.
A successful appeal in Malaysia’s top court against the sodomy conviction set him free in 2004.
He had already served a separate sentence for corruption.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 21, 2006.