Malaysia’s highest court rejected on Tuesday an appeal by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim against a 2014 sodomy conviction, sending the politician who poses the greatest threat to the long-ruling party back to prison for five years.
By Trinna Leong and Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah
KUALA LUMPUR | Tue Feb 10, 2015 4:23am EST
(Reuters) – Malaysia’s highest court rejected on Tuesday an appeal by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim against a 2014 sodomy conviction, sending the politician who poses the greatest threat to the long-ruling party back to prison for five years.
Human Rights Watch condemned the court decision, decrying what it called Anwar’s persecution which it said put at risk the democratic freedom of all Malaysians.
Anwar, the ruling party’s rising star in the mid-1990s before he fell out with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, denied the charge that led to his second conviction for sodomy saying it was politically motivated.
“I will walk again for the third time into prison but rest assured that I will walk in with my head held high,” a defiant Anwar said in a statement he read out in court.
“I maintain my innocence. This to me is a complete fabrication coming from a political conspiracy to stop my political career.”
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government has rejected any suggestion of interference in the case.
“Malaysia has an independent judiciary, and there have been many rulings against senior government figures,” the government said in a statement after the ruling.
Anwar criticized the court saying that in rejecting his appeal it was “bowing to the dictates of the political masters”.
“You chose to remain on the dark side and drown your morals and your scruples in a sea of falsehood and subterfuge,” he told the judges.
Anwar later comforted his wife and children and had a meal with them before being taken to the Sungai Buloh prison, about 30 km (20 miles) from Kuala Lumpur.
A court found the 67-year old former deputy prime minister guilty in March last year of sodomizing a former political aide.
The conviction disqualifies him from political office and contesting the next election that must be held by 2018.
Nurul Izzah, Anwar’s daughter who is also a political leader in his Parti Keadilan Rakyat, was also defiant.
“This is not the end,” said told reporters outside the court.
Anwar is head of a three-party opposition alliance that made gains in a 2013 general election which for the first time raised the possibility of a genuine challenge for the ruling coalition.
The decision against him raises the prospect of a fresh bout of political agitation which could make investors even more cautious about putting money into an economy so heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues at a time when global prices are so low.
Anwar’s party and the opposition alliance plan protests against the verdict. Hundreds of his supporters outside the court waved party flags and shouted “Down with Barisan Nasional”, referring to the coalition that has ruled since 1957.
“What has happened today is not fair but this has happened before … we will keep fighting,” said an Anwar supporter who identified herself as Salihah M, 36.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, called the court ruling a “travesty of justice” which would “further undermine respect for rights and democracy in Malaysia”.
“Prime Minister Najib Razak’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,” he said.
Anwar has for years been the greatest threat to Malaysia’s political establishment.
His jailing could undermine the opposition’s unity and the challenge it poses but it could also galvanize dissent.
His political career has been turbulent since he was sacked in 1998 after falling out with then premier Mahathir and then campaigned against corruption and nepotism and led a nationwide “reformasi” (reform) protest movement.
Since then, he has been beset by legal problems and spent several years in prison after being convicted of corruption and an earlier sodomy charge.
Some ruling party members and analysts have played down fear of upheaval in response to Anwar’s return to jail.
“Anwar’s political image is not anywhere near close to what it was in the ’90s,” Wan Saiful Wan Jan, of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, said earlier.
“The country has moved on.”
(Writing by Praveen Monon; Editing by Robert Birsel)