Anwar accuser testifies

2010-02-05 21:23

Kuala Lumpur - The young man who accused Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy claimed in court Friday that the Malaysian opposition leader showered him with special attention including an offer to sponsor his university education.

Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 24, testified on the third day of the trial that Anwar seemed to take an immediate liking to him when they met during the campaign for the March 2008 elections. Saiful was subsequently appointed Anwar's personal aide.

"He was a charismatic leader as well as my idol since I was little," he said.

Anwar denies that he sodomised Saiful on June 26, 2008, dismissing it as a government conspiracy going right up to Prime Minister Najib Razak to prevent him from dislodging the ruling coalition. Anwar's People's Alliance coalition made huge gains in the 2008 elections and sees itself as coming to power in the next polls, due in 2013.

Sodomy, even if consensual, is punishable by up to 20 years in jail in Malaysia. Even a sentence of one year if he is convicted would bar Anwar, 62, from politics for five years from the date of his release from jail.

Saiful, a college dropout, said Anwar told him after the elections that he appreciated his help as a volunteer and later gave Saiful his own office despite his lack of qualifications.

Physical evidence

He said that when he resigned - a day after the alleged sodomy - Anwar tried to persuade him to stay. Anwar also offered to pay for his education while continuing to pay his salary.

Saiful said Anwar gave him a pair of black slacks as a gift which he had worn on the day of the alleged incident, and later handed to the police as evidence.

On Friday, the court examined physical evidence submitted by the prosecution including Saiful's gray underwear and swabs taken during his medical examination.

The relevance of the physical evidence wasn't explained publicly, but part of Saiful's testimony was given behind closed doors on Thursday because of its graphic nature.

Saiful said he went to a private and a government hospital two days after the alleged act.

Anwar said his lawyers have advised him not to comment until Saiful has been cross-examined on Monday, but added that "clearly there are major factual errors".

Rising religious tension

Anwar was previously tried for sodomy in 1998 when he was deputy prime minister under then leader Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir fired Anwar during a power struggle, accusing him of sodomising his family driver.

Anwar spent six years in prison from 1998 to 2004 for alleged corruption and sodomy before the sodomy conviction was overturned. Anwar maintains his innocence, insisting he was framed by Mahathir.

Mahathir denies that, just as the current prime minister, Najib, denies conspiring against Anwar.

Any doubts in the public mind about the fairness of the charge or the trial would boomerang on Najib, whose government is under pressure because of rising religious tensions following recent attacks on churches.

More than 20 opposition supporters staged a peaceful protest against the trial after Friday afternoon prayers outside a mosque near the Kuala Lumpur High Court. They held banners denouncing the sodomy accusation as "slander" and chanted "Reformasi" - Anwar's slogan for political reform.