Malaysia: Opposition leader jailed for sodomy

MALAYSIA’S top court yesterday upheld the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction for sodomy and sentenced him to five years in prison.

Supporters of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are corralled by riot police outside the court. Picture: Getty
Supporters of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are corralled by riot police outside the court. Picture: Getty
Supporters of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim are corralled by riot police outside the court. Picture: Getty

Standing in the dock, Ibrahim condemned the verdict as the “murder of judicial independence” and the result of a political conspiracy.

The case was widely seen at home and abroad as politically motivated to eliminate any threats to the ruling coalition whose popularity has slowly been eroded since 2008 after more than five decades of unquestioned dominance.

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Ibrahim is the most popular, vocal and visible symbol of the opposition’s resurgence and had become a potent political threat to prime minister Najib Razak.

This was his final appeal and once the proceedings ended he was led by police out of the court, presumably to immediately start serving time on charges of sodomising a then 23-year-old aide who worked in his office.

“I have to go. Time’s up,” the 67-year-old politician told his supporters inside the court. “I will miss you all,” he added, bowing to them before walking out.

Ibrahim was accused of sodomising Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who was working as a lowly functionary in the opposition election campaign office, in 2008.

Ibrahim was acquitted by the Malaysian high court in 2012 but the appeals court overturned the acquittal in March last year and sentenced him to five years in prison.

He then appealed to the federal court, which in its ruling yesterday said there was “overwhelming evidence” to support the conviction.

“It is beyond reasonable doubt that [Azlan] was sodomised by the appellant. The appeal is ­dismissed,” said Justice Arifin Zakat, who read the verdict for two hours on behalf of the five-judge panel.

The court also sentenced Ibrahim to five years imprisonment, even though the prosecutor had asked for more than six years. Sodomy, even if consensual, is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

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Azlan maintained that he submitted to it because he was afraid of Ibrahim.

Now 30, Azlan has since married and has a son. He said on his blog yesterday he was thankful for the judgment, which proves the court found him a credible witness.

“What is important is that I and my family can now move forward,” he wrote.

The federal court said Ibrahim’s allegations that the case was a political conspiracy “remains an allegation, unsubstantiated by any facts whatsoever”. It also rejected the defence argument that semen samples taken from Azlan’s body were tampered with by the police.

Addressing the judges from the dock after the verdict, ­Ibrahim said: “You have become partners in crime in the murder of judicial independence,” prompting them to get up and walk out of the room, with ­Justice Arifin heard saying, “I don’t need to hear all this”.

Ibrahim, however, continued speaking from the dock. “Allah be my witness. I pledge that I will not be silenced. I will fight on for freedom and justice. I will never surrender.

“I maintain my innocence. This to me is a fabrication ­coming from a political conspiracy to stop my political career.”

As the last words of the verdict were read out, Ibrahim’s wife, Wan Azizah, burst into tears. He hugged and consoled her before turning to his children and grandchildren and embracing them too.

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Around 300 of his supporters gathered peacefully outside the imposing court building in Putrajaya during the trial.