Anwar sodomy trial back on
Kuala Lumpur - The sodomy trial of Anwar Ibrahim will resume in May following a three-month interruption after the Malaysian opposition leader tried to force the judge to step down, the High Court said on Thursday.
The politically charged trial has been disrupted since mid-February, when Anwar claimed that Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah was biased against the defence. Mohamad Zabidin denied Anwar's allegation and refused to recuse himself from the case, prompting Anwar's lawyers to turn to a higher court to seek the judge's dismissal.
Anwar dropped the attempt to disqualify the judge last week, hoping to dispel criticism he was delaying the trial. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sodomising a male former aide - a charge he claims was concocted by the government to cripple his opposition movement. Government authorities deny any conspiracy.
Judge Mohamad Zabidin ruled on Thursday that hearings will resume on May 10 and are expected to continue through the end of August. He scheduled the dates after the defence team said Anwar and his top lawyer, who are both members of Parliament, were involved in legislative sessions.
The trial began in early February with testimony from Saiful Bukhari Azlan, the 24-year-old man who accused Anwar of forcing him to have anal sex at a condominium in June 2008. Most of Saiful's testimony was recorded behind closed doors because of its graphic nature.
Anwar's lawyers say a medical examination of Saiful conducted after the alleged sodomy showed no conclusive evidence of penetration. Sodomy is an illegal act - even if consensual - in this Muslim-majority country.
Anwar reiterated on Thursday his claim that Prime Minister Najib Razak's administration fabricated the charge to remove him from the political scene and weaken his opposition alliance after it made unprecedented inroads during 2008 elections.
"This is malicious," Anwar told reporters. "It shouldn't have started in the first place. This is wasting public resources and people's time. This is fitting into (the government's) political game."
It is the second time that Anwar, aged 62, has been accused of sodomy. In 1998, he lost his post as then-deputy prime minister and spent six years in jail on convictions for sodomy and abuse of power. Anwar was freed in 2004 when a court overturned the sodomy conviction.