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Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim Jailed for Five Years in Controversial Sodomy Case

The embattled dissident maintains the case against him was masterminded by Malaysia’s ruling coalition to snuff out political competition.

by Liz Fields
Feb 9 2015, 10:50pm

Photo by Joshua Paul/AP

Anwar Ibrahim, leader of Malaysia's largest opposition movement, had his conviction for Sodomy upheld on Tuesday and will serve five years in prison. Anwar has fought a seven year of court battle to defeat the allegations that he maintains were masterminded by Malaysia's ruling coalition to snuff out political competition.

After reading the verdict for two hours Judge Arifin Zakaria found Anwar guilty. Arifin ruled that the testimony of Anwar's former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who accused him of sodomy was reliable. Anwar was led out of the Palace of Justice where the hearing took place, to head directly to jail, as crowds of supporters waited in the streets, chanting for reform.

The former economist and cabinet minister told a crowd of supporters on Monday night before the verdict that he refused multiple offers of asylum in various countries. He vowed to face the justice system and fight for Malaysia with his People's Alliance party — an unlikely coalition of Islamists, mainstream Malay elements, and secular Chinese — from prison if necessary.

"God willing, I will be acquitted. But if I am imprisoned, we will still fight. We will never surrender," Anwar said during the final leg of his "Rakyat Hakim Negara" ("The people are the judge") tour across Malaysia.

Shortly after the verdict, the Prime Minister Najib Razak's Office, released a statement.

"The judges will have reached their verdict only after considering all the evidence in a balanced and objective manner," it read. "The police report against Anwar Ibrahim was brought by a private individual — Anwar's employee and personal assistant — not by the government. As the victim of a serious sexual assault, he had every right to have his case heard in court."

Anwar has repeatedly denied sodomizing a former young male aide, the crime for which he was arrested nearly seven years ago, but this case represented his last avenue of appeal. The 67-year-old could have been be flogged and jailed for up to 20 years under Malaysian law. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) severely criticised the verdict.

"Najib's government has persisted in its politically motivated prosecution of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at the expense of democratic freedoms and the rights to non-discrimination and privacy for all Malaysians," said HRW's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson. "Allowing this travesty of justice to stand will further undermine respect for rights and democracy in Malaysia." 

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Throughout the proceedings that began in 2008, the prosecution has relied on the testimony of Anwar's aide, Saiful, as well as alleged semen samples that were matched to the opposition leader by a DNA test. The defense has argued the test was botched and the samples tainted, and a high court judge agreed, acquitting him of the charges in early 2012. 

But more than two years later, just days before Anwar was set to contest a March 2014 election, an appeals court overturned the high court's ruling, essentially squashing any prospect of Anwar leading his party in what likely would have been a win against Najib's administration.

Today, the court ruled in all DNA evidence, saying it had not been tampered with or degraded before testing.

Anwar was previously embroiled in another sexual misconduct case with a male speechwriter when he served as deputy prime minister. He was dismissed from office and sentenced to six years in prison in 1999 after he was convicted of corruption and "illegal" gay acts. He says police beat him while he was in custody.

Two months after the conviction, the government brought a separate sodomy charge against Anwar involving his family's former driver. After another trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to nine years, which the court ordered him to serve after his first sentence was completed. In 2004, while Anwar was serving his second stint in prison, an appeals court overturned the conviction.

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On Monday, Anwar told Al Jazeera he was cautiously optimistic he would beat the charges once again, but also "mentally, spiritually and physically prepared to return to jail."

"It's a small price I have to pay in my struggle for freedom and justice for all Malaysians," he said. "Whether it's five years or ten it doesn't matter to me anymore. I have to fight them, of course. They can give me 20 years. I don't give a damn."

Several rights groups and public figures have defended Anwar, including former US Vice President Al Gore, who called the Malaysian government's continued prosecution of the case "disturbing."

"The entire world understands with clarity that Anwar Ibrahim was at the verge of running for an office that would have given him serious leverage for advocating greatly needed reform, had he won the election, that his election by the people was likely, and that it was the likely judgment of the electorate that inspired this action by those presently holding power over the administration of "justice," Gore wrote in a statement last year.

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VICE News' Samuel Oakford contributed to this report.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter:@lianzifields

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Politics
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malaysia
Najib Razak
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Anwar Ibrahim
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