KUALA LUMPUR — As the much anticipated criminal trial of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim began today, everything in Malaysia not related to the proceedings either paused until further notice, or has abruptly ceased to exist. The trial, presided by Justice Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah, will be the only thing that happens in the country anywhere for the next few weeks to a few months, giving other interesting things in life a much-needed break and time off.
Anwar, the Parti Keadilan Rakyat advisor and Permatang Pauh MP, is accused of sodomising his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan at Unit 11-5-1, Kondominium Desa Damansara, Jalan Setiakasih, Bukit Damansara, between 3.01pm and 4.30pm on June 26, 2008. He is charged under section 377B of the Penal Code which carries a maximum 20-year jail term and whipping, if convicted.
Checks around the capital city and other spots in the country revealed a surreal calm as the population went about their lives without anything interesting — or even mildly sensational — happening. In some areas, things which would normally be considered newsworthy like dirty restaurants or broken signboards have been replaced by white space, not worthy of any attention. This has somewhat affected news organisations.
“We anticipated the impossibly high level of newsworthiness of the trial about a year-and-a-half ago,” said Datuk Azman Ujang, editor-in-chief of Bernama, the nation’s premiere news agency. “So we’ve restructured our manpower allocation to accommodate the new scheme of things.”
Azman added that all the journalists, photographers, camera crew and editors from the other beats, including sports, entertainment, business and lifestyle, have been put on the ‘Sodomy II’ assignment until the trial is over. “We realise that nothing happens outside of the courthouse for as long as the Anwar trial is on. The trial is the only thing that matters. Everyone will be talking only about the proceedings, at the mamak shop, the trains, the offices, over dinners and nothing else… so we at Bernama want to be the premiere source of credible information for all that talk.”
Datuk Wong Chun Wai, Group Chief Editor of The Star, meanwhile said that the publication will institute a temporary shutdown of half its operations until non-Sodomy II things come back to life.
“It doesn’t make business sense to have the mill running at full steam when most of news has disappeared and the universe centres around the trial,” said Wong. “I mean, fuck, man. No other fucking things happen, period. People say ‘no news is good news’, but for a news organisation, it’s a bummer. But that’s what happens when really important things like this takes place.
“We’ve got enough staff manning the fort and covering the event. The rest of the pages will be filled by wire services like Reuters and AP, supplying us international news, which is not affected by the trial at all.”
Meanwhile, Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan said that this is an opportune time for most of the police workforce to clear their annual leave days, seeing that there is no crime, accidents or any other cases for them to investigate during the trial.
“Yes, I’m still on the clock, since I’m supervising the case,” said Musa. “But the rest of my officers can get their rest, seeing that every other bad thing has ceased to exist, evil forces have paused and crime has disappeared. The whole country will have a complete and absolute peace while Anwar’s trial goes on.
“I’m kind of hoping for a long trial, so that my men will come back from their long leave refreshed,” he said.
According to media reports, the nation is holding its breath as it followed everything that happens in the courtroom at the Kuala Lumpur High Court. It is, however, not known exactly how long the nation would be able to hold its breath, although experts say that it could be quite a while, if coupled with gasps of excitement and the occasional “ooh’s” and “aah’s” by the nation’s 26 million-strong population.