Shafee justifies calling Anwar coward, says it’s ‘legalistic’

Umno lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah told the High Court in Kuala Lumpur today it was not wrong for him to call Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim a “coward” for refusing to take the witness stand during the former opposition leader’s second sodomy trial.

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This was despite Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who was examining Shafee today, suggesting he had attacked Anwar and gone beyond the Federal Court’s judgment on the second sodomy case by making such a statement.

Shafee, who was testifying in his defamation suit against the Malaysian Bar and three others, admitted he had told several newspapers shortly after the verdict that Anwar had acted cowardly for making a statement from the dock.

But he said the description of Anwar was neither a personal attack nor inconsistent with the Federal Court’s judgment on the case.Ambiga: You said (in an interview) “I believe he took the cowardly step of reading his statement from the dock”. That’s a personal attack.

Shafee: It’s not personal. It’s legalistic.

Ambiga: “Cowardly” is legalistic?

Ambiga’s retort prompted sniggers from the packed gallery, which included former Bar Council president Christopher Leong, also a defendant in the suit.

Shafee hastily explained that he believed Anwar was a “most articulate speaker” who could talk his way out of any situation, and had no apparent excuse not to take the witness stand.

“Statements from the dock are those… of infirmed mind, mad. Yet he dare not take the witness box after putting Saiful (Bukhari) through several days of harsh questioning,” said Shafee.

This prompted Ambiga to point out that the Federal Court itself never described Anwar a coward.

“Who cares what the court described?” Shafee said to a surprised courtroom.

“That is the problem. ‘Who cares what the court described?’,” Ambiga said.

“I said before, every description I made was never inconsistent from the court judgment. Only if the Federal Court said Anwar had not acted cowardly, then my statement would be inconsistent,” said Shafee.

Shafee maintained that none of the statements he issued on Sodomy 2, post-trial, conflicted with the Federal Court’s judgment.

He added that he only spoke out to defend the court’s judgment on the case, and not to attack Anwar.

He said the layperson would not be able to understand the court judgment.

But Ambiga argued that Shafee had gone beyond the court’s judgment when he dwelled on Anwar’s decisions to issue a statement from the dock, not to call in witnesses, and not to provide fresh DNA samples.

She said the Federal Court in its judgment had not drawn attention to those issues, and said Shafee’s intention for speaking out on it was to demean Anwar.

“I disagree. My entire intention was to correct any wrong impression that has been forwarded by several quarters against the judgment,” said Shafee.

“I may have travelled slightly outside the perimeters of the judgment, but that was just to defend it.”

Shafee named the Malaysian Bar, former Bar president Christopher Leong, Tommy Thomas and Tan Sri V. C. George as defendants in the defamation suit.

Thomas and George, two senior members of the Malaysian Bar, had urged the Bar Council to take action against Shafee over his conduct following Anwar’s sodomy conviction by the Federal Court.

The two said from the time the Federal Court convicted Anwar on February 10 last year, Shafee, who was the deputy public prosecutor in the case, had behaved in a repugnant and obnoxious manner which brought the legal profession into disrepute.

In their motion submitted at the AGM, the two senior lawyers also urged the incoming council for the 2015-2016 term to lodge a report against Shafee with the Advocates and Solicitors Disciplinary Board.

They said steps had to be taken to further prevent Shafee from bringing the legal profession into disrepute.

Shafee was accused of wilfully and with impunity:

* holding press conferences condemning Anwar who could not respond as a convicted prisoner serving time;

* drawing attention to his prowess, allegedly as a top-rate prosecutor;

* demeaning Anwar and his legal team, and the way the defence was conducted;

* giving interviews to the media on his performance as prosecutor; and,

* organising and participating in nationwide roadshows with a political party, with the purpose of insulting a convicted prisoner and for bringing attention to his role in the conviction.

Shafee was said to have violated the Legal Profession (Publicity) Rules 2001 which prohibit lawyers from publicising themselves or their practice in any manner.

They also said while Shafee was backed by forces of the state, he was not above the law.

Lawyers Lambert Rasaratnam and Andrew Chiew are appearing for the Bar and Leong, while Ambiga is appearing for Thomas and Datuk Porres Royan for George, who is a former Court of Appeal judge.

The trial before Datuk Hanipah Farikullah is scheduled to go on until January 29.