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Zainur sentenced to 3 months jail, arrest warrant on Manjeet

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 30  - A defence counsel of ousted deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim won a last-minute reprieve against a three-month jail sentence for contempt of court Monday, as hundreds of lawyers descended on the main courthouse.

"We want justice!" the lawyers and family members shouted as Anwar defence counsel Zainur Zakaria emerged from the court building, visibly shaken but still smiling after a day of drama.

After handing down the jail sentence earlier, presiding judge Justice Augustine Paul ordered Zainur to surrender himself to the court at 4 p.m. (0800 GMT).

But Court of Appeal president Lamin Yunus granted an interim stay of execution against the sentence pending a hearing set for Friday afternoon, said Pawancheek Merican, another member of Anwar's defence team.

He told reporters that bail for Zainur had been set at 10,000 ringgit (2,600 dollars).

Zainur had been sentenced by Paul after refusing to apologise for allegations that prosecutors tried to fabricate evidence against Anwar contained in a court application he filed on Saturday on behalf of the ousted deputy premier.

"We are shocked, completely shocked," said one of the chanting lawyers who turned out to see Zainur as he emerged from the court, in the same central Kuala Lumpur building where Anwar's corruption trial, now in its 16th day, is taking place.

He added Zainur's three-month sentence was a "blow to every lawyer in this country."

"He is brave. He is our hero," said another lawyer who asked not to be named.

A third lawyer, P. Uthayakumar, said he and other lawyers were proposing to hold an emergency meeting of the Malaysian bar council "to discuss the welfare of a fellow member of the bar.

"We need a minimum of 50 people and we have already 57. I've already submitted the proposal," he said. "We'd like to have it as soon as possible."

The three-month jail sentence imposed on Zainur Zakaria  will not affect the trial, another   defence counsel said.

"It will not have a bearing in the main trial," Raja Aziz Addruse told reporters after the judge sentenced Zainur and issued a warrant for the arrest of another lawyer, Manjeet Singh Dhillon.

"This is the first time a judge has made a finding without listening to the counsel first," Raja Aziz said.

He said the defence team "did not expect this" but denied the three-month sentence was a blow for Anwar. "I don't think so," he said, adding that it was "one of those things."

Both Zainur and Manjeet were involved in an explosive application on Saturday, in which Anwar called for senior deputy public prosecutor Dato Abdul Gani Patail and his deputy Azahar bin Mohamed to be removed from his trial hearing charges that he used his position to cover up claims of sexual misconduct.

Anwar accused the two prosecutors of "going out of their way" to get his tennis partner, Solaimalai Nallakaruppan, to help the office of Attorney-General Mohtar Abdullah by falsely implicating him in sexual offences with various women.

Nalla, as he is known, was arrested earlier this year under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) and faces a mandatory death sentence if convicted in his separate trial on a charge of possessing 125 bullets.

"A man's life -- or for that matter his freedom -- is not a tool for a prosecution agency to use as a bargaining chip," Manjeet wrote in a letter to the attorney general attached to the affidavit.

Manjeet, one of Nalla's lawyers, described the alleged moves by the prosecution as "blackmail and extortion of the highest culpability."

As Anwar's trial resumed Monday for the 16th day, Justice Paul said Zainur would be found guilty of "trying to undermine the integrity of this trial" unless he apologised to the court and the attorney general as well as to Abdul Gani Patail and Azahar.

"I am unable to tender my apologies," the defence counsel replied.

"Okay, fair enough," Justice Paul replied. "I call upon you to show cause why you should not be charged with contempt of court for filing an application with an affidavit which contains slanderous accusations."

As the judge ordered the lawyer to step into the witness box, chief defence counsel Raja Aziz Addruse stood up and said he would defend Zainur along with other members of Anwar's high-profile defence team.

"This is a quasi-criminal type of offence and Zainur Zakaria should be allowed time to defend himself," Aziz told the court.

"I quite understand that this trial cannot be interrupted. But just as an accused person in the main trial must be given time to prepare for his defence, Zainur Zakaria should be accorded the same consideration."

Malaysia's Attorney-General Mohtar Abdullah told the court he intended to charge Zainur with contempt.

"You have stolen the thunder, so to speak," Mohtar said. "It is well within your lordship to act immediately in this contempt of court and subversion of the course of justice."

Zainur said he needed a couple of days to prepare his defence, but Justice Paul refused and adjourned the court for 15 minutes.

The judge then ruled that Zainur was in contempt of court for "filing an application with an affidavit which contains slanderous accusations."

"I find it extremely painful but the duty of the chair compels the way I act," Justice Paul said. "This application is totally baseless."

The judge added: "I shall now issue a warrant of arrest against Manjeet Singh to arrest him and produce him before this court as soon as possible."

Earlier, Anwar turned to reporters during a court recess before the judge's ruling and said: "Where is the justice? He is doing it under my name. Zainur is going to jail because of me."

Attorney General Mohtar told the court that two reports by the two public prosecutors were also being lodged against Manjeet.

"This is not the first time he has been in contempt of court," said Mohtar, making his cameo appearance in Anwar's trial. "The public prosecutor, and the attorney general, feel very strongly against any attempt to undermine justice."

Anwar, dismissed by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on September 2 and arrested 18 days later, has pleaded not guilty to the four corruption charges in the trial. He faces a fifth corruption charge and five charges of sodomy, which he has also denied.

If convicted of corruption, Anwar faces a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison. The sodomy charges each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years plus whipping.

-- AFP

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