By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com March 17 2014 7:59 PM ET
As investigations continue into the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared March 8, there comes the news that chief pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was recently sentenced to five years in prison on charges of sodomy.
Anwar has faced sodomy accusations for more than a decade, and he “has always maintained the charges were part of a political smear campaign,” the BBC notes. Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia, but it’s rare for anyone to be prosecuted for it. And some political observers say the theory being floated that Shah hijacked the plane in protest over Anwar’s treatment is likely also trumped-up.
Anwar was deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998, then was jailed for alleged abuse of power in 1999. In 2000 he was convicted of engaging in sodomy with his wife’s chauffeur. In 2004 his conviction was overturned and he was freed from prison, but in 2008 he was accused of sodomy again but was elected to Parliament that year nonetheless. He was acquitted of that charge in 2012, but this month the acquittal was overturned after the government appealed it, and he was handed the five-year sentence, although he was expected to remain free on bail while he appealed, according to the BBC.
The pilot may have been present in court when Anwar’s acquittal was reversed, but Shah’s support for the politician does not give credence to the theory, being advanced by some anonymous sources, that “Shah hijacked the Malaysia Airlines flight in some twisted form of protest against the government,” writes Slate commentator William J. Dobson. These sources, apparently connected with the Malaysian government, have described Shah as a “fanatical supporter” of the People’s Justice Party, which is led by Anwar and is the chief political group opposing the nation’s ruling party, the United Malays National Organization.
“Anwar is trying to defeat Malaysia’s authoritarian regime through elections — not terrorism, let alone revolution,” writes Dobson. “So, to be clear, what we know is that the pilot of MH370 is a fanatical supporter of a nonviolent man who supports a pluralistic and democratic Malaysia.”