'Main belakang': Feb 7 verdict on KJ’s appeal against Anwar’s suit

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'Main belakang': Feb 7 verdict on KJ’s appeal against Anwar’s suit
'Main belakang': Feb 7 verdict on KJ’s appeal against Anwar’s suit

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin will know on Feb 7 whether he succeeds in his appeal against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s defamation suit over a “main belakang” remark uttered in 2008.

The Court of Appeal set the decision date after hearing submissions from lawyers for both parties during online proceedings conducted via Zoom today.

A three-person bench chaired by Lee Swee Seng heard submissions by Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Gopal Sri Ram, who are lead counsels for Khairy and Anwar respectively.

The other members of the bench are Darryl Goon Siew Chye and Ghazali Cha.

The Rembau MP is appealing against the Kuala Lumpur High Court decision on Sept 29, 2017, which ruled that he was liable for defaming Anwar, with the remark made at a ceramah in Lembah Pantai, Kuala Lumpur, in early 2008, just before the 12th general election.

The lower court had ordered the Umno lawmaker to pay RM150,000 in damages to the Port Dickson MP.

During the previous Court of Appeal hearing on Nov 2, Khairy’s legal team had submitted that the 2008 remark was not referring to Anwar’s sodomy case, but rather to the then opposition’s pre-election marriage of convenience in the run-up to GE12.

In response, Sri Ram during today’s proceedings countered that the High Court had correctly surmised that the primarily Umno crowd at the 2008 Lembah Pantai speech understood the context of Khairy’s remark to refer to sodomy allegation against Anwar, rather than the then opposition’s alleged marriage of convenience.

In the run-up to GE12 in 2008, the then Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition consisted of PKR, DAP and PAS.

Sri Ram today pointed out that Khairy’s remark singled out Anwar as allegedly “main dua-dua ikut belakang” (play behind both) DAP and PAS, while the earlier portion of the same remark had referred to PAS as allegedly “main DAP ikut kiri” (play DAP from the left) and DAP allegedly “main PAS ikut kanan” (play PAS from the right).

“When it came to the plaintiff (Anwar), it (Khairy’s 2008 speech) did not refer to a political party.

“There was a targeted attack on Pas and DAP (in the speech), but when it came to the plaintiff, it did not mention his party (PKR) but instead mentioned Anwar.

“The crowd (at the Lembah Pantai gathering) was a Malay and Umno crowd.

“He (Khairy) was addressing a crowd that understood or taken to understood the context of reference (to Anwar’s sodomy allegation, following the 2004 Federal Court ruling which overturned his Sodomy 1 conviction),” the lawyer contended.

'Laughter was a derisory one'

Sri Ram submitted that the High Court had properly concluded the crowd understood the context of the sodomy allegation against Anwar as the act of sodomy is punishable in Malaysia, per the country’s Penal Code.

“The boisterous reaction of the crowd confirmed the meaning of the words attributing (alleged) homosexuality to the plaintiff.

“We are talking about an Umno crowd, where the laughter was a derisory one against Anwar.

“We submit that the words uttered (in the 2008 speech) are defamatory and carry defamatory meaning, and it does not matter what the meaning that (Khairy allegedly actually) intended to be conveyed,” the former federal court judge said.

In response, Shafee replied in submission that Khairy mentioned Anwar in the remark as the political veteran was the “glue” that held the Pakatan coalition together.

The lawyer contended that this is in line with Khairy’s speech which was comparing the “permanent marriage” for the then BN alliance of Umno-MIC-Gerakan-PPP versus the alleged marriage of convenience of the Pakatan coalition.

“They (Anwar’s lawyers) asked why say Anwar and not PKR (in Khairy’s speech)?

“The reason was provided by my client (Khairy) during cross-examination (by Anwar’s lawyers during High Court hearing of the defamation suit), where he (Khairy) mentioned Anwar as he (Anwar) was described as the glue that brought cohesion to the opposition parties, which would not last and lead to divorce (metaphor for dissolution of Pakatan),” Shafee contended.

During the High Court trial, Khairy, who was then youth and sports minister, maintained that he never defamed Anwar as the remark was referring to the opposition’s alleged tendency for temporary alliances before general elections and that the coalitions tend to break up after the polls.

Anwar filed the defamation suit against Khairy in the High Court in early 2008.

The appeal was long-standing as initially, on Feb 19, 2018, the Court of Appeal had dismissed Khairy’s appeal on a technicality without hearing its merits.

However, on Dec 15, 2020, the Federal Court allowed Khairy’s appeal against this initial dismissal and ordered the Court of Appeal to hear the merits of the minister’s appeal.

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