Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is free on bail after pleading not guilty to charges of sodomy. According to media reports, his next hearing is on 10 September.
Anwar has declared that the charges will not stop his campaign for a parliamentary seat as part of an effort to dislodge the Barisan Nasional, Malaysia’s ruling coalition since the country’s independence in 1957.
Anwar is the de facto leader of the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance), a coalition of three opposition parties that won 82 of the 222 parliamentary seats in the March 2008 general elections. This was the first time since 1969 that the Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in the Parliament, the number required to defeat any veto attempts and to amend the Malaysian Constitution.
“Ten years ago the government used a similar charge of sodomy against Anwar Ibrahim and kept him in jail for six years, the conviction was ultimately overturned,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director.
“In 1998, Amnesty International considered Anwar Ibrahim a prisoner of conscience. Today, there are again indications that the government is not playing by the rules in this case.”
A male aide, Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, filed a complaint stating that Anwar had forcibly sodomized him in a Kuala Lumpur apartment on 26 June 2008. Under conservative Malaysia’s strict laws, the crime of sodomy, even if consensual, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Armed police officers wearing masks arrested Anwar on 16 July and held him overnight after Azlan filed the complaint.
On 28 July, the report on the medical examination of Azlan by a doctor at a private hospital was leaked to the press. The report indicated that he had not been sodomized. However the doctor advised him to go to a government hospital for a second examination, which he is reported to have done later that day. The whereabouts of the doctor are currently unknown.
“We are also concerned about the safety of all the witnesses in this case, particularly Dr Mohamed Osman, and we call on the government to provide adequate protection to them,” Sam Zarifi said.
On 6 August, Malaysian police informed Anwar that he would be formally charged with “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and should present himself to the Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court at 10am on 7 August.
Also on 6 August, the Elections Commission announced that the by-election for the Permatang Pauh, Penang, parliamentary seat, which Anwar is contesting, would be held on 26 August.
Anwar lost his position as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister in September 1998, after he criticized the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s handling of Malaysian financial policy, related to the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
In April 1999, Anwar was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for corruption and was further sentenced to nine years for sodomy in August 2000. The Federal Court overturned the sodomy conviction in September 2004 after Anwar had spent six years in prison.
His corruption conviction disqualified him from running in elections or holding political office until April 2008.