Monday, September 13, 1999 Published at 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Malaysian PM defends judiciary
Jailed: Anwar Ibrahim's trial remains controversial
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has defended the judiciary in the wake of the jailing of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, despite calls for a royal commission into the country's legal system.
The prime minister was speaking at the opening of a Commonwealth lawyers conference in Kuala Lumpur only days after Malaysia became the first Commonwealth nation in 50 years to jail a journalist for contempt.
"Impoverishing millions of people, depriving them of medicine, even killing large numbers of them directly or indirectly are not considered violation of human rights.
"But arrest a political dissident and the whole world condemns the government for violations of human rights."
'Nothing to hide'
Anwar was taken to hospital on Friday amid allegations from his lawyers that he had become the victim of an attempted arsenic poisoning since he was jailed in April for six years on political corruption charges.
"But if I were brought before the court and the court decides against me, then the court is independent."
"We have nothing to hide, he added. "But open minds are necessary for you to judge fairly."
Royal commission call
Conference organisers said that many participants had only agreed to attend at the last minute after pleas from Malaysian lawyers not to stay away in protest.
He called for a royal commission and a royal pardon for the Canadian journalist jailed on Saturday.
In a separate address, the president of Malaysia's Bar Council RR Chelvarajah said that criticisms of the judiciary had to be taken seriously.
Backing calls for a commission, he said: "These comments should not be ignored or brushed aside by castigating those who make them as meddlers in internal affairs," he said.
"Nothing is more debilitating to a nation than to have a judiciary which does not command the respect and confidence of the public."
Calls for journalist's release
The US and Canada have joined human rights groups in criticising Malaysia following the jailing of Murray Hiebert of the Far Eastern Economic Review.
Mr Hiebert, Malaysia bureau chief for the Hong Kong-based publication, was jailed over a January 1997 article which was alleged to have amounted to an attack on the judiciary.
In a statement, the White House said that the jailing would undermine press freedoms which play such a critical role in building a democratic society.
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists described the jailing as an "outrage".