Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said Friday
he had a moral duty to accuse his ex-successor of
being gay because it was "unimaginable" to let a gay
person 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
Anwar's suit is "scandalous, frivolous, and
vexatious and...an abuse of the [legal] process,"
Mahathir said in a 38-page statement filed Friday 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 that "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 number 2 leader for five
years under Mahathir before they fell out over policy
disagreements during the 1997-1998 Asian
financial crisis. Mahathir fired Anwar in September 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. (AP)