Anwar acquitted in sodomy trial

2012-01-09 07:18

Kuala Lumpur - A Malaysian court acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy charges on Monday, a surprise ruling that could accelerate the political comeback of one of Asia's most celebrated reformers ahead of an expected election this year.

Judge Zabidin Mohamad Diah found Anwar not guilty due to doubts over whether DNA samples tendered as evidence were contaminated, setting off celebrations by thousands of opposition supporters outside the High Court in Kuala Lumpur.

"And because it was a sexual offence, the court is reluctant to convict on uncorroborated evidence. Therefore the accused is acquitted and discharged," Zabidin told a packed courtroom in the Malaysian capital.

Sex between males is a criminal offence in this mainly Muslim country of 28 million people and it was the second time Anwar was charged under the law.

A conviction would have meant a jail term of up to 20 years, effectively ending Anwar's leadership of the opposition three-party Pakatan coalition at a crucial time when Prime Minister Najib Razak is preparing for elections.

Najib has slowly introduced political and economic reforms but is wary of moving too aggressively and provoking a backlash by conservatives in his Muslim ethnic-Malay dominated government.

Anwar was heir-apparent to then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in the late 1990s before he fell out with his mentor and was sacked as deputy prime minister and then jailed on sodomy and corruption charges. The conviction was over-turned in 2004 after he had served six years.

He was expelled from the long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) but is currently Najib's main rival for the votes of the country's Malay majority.

Voice of the people

Anwar has promoted a rival vision for Malaysia that would abolish or scale back its most authoritarian laws and scrap a system of ethnic preferences for Malays that ethnic-Chinese and ethnic-Indian Malaysians say is unfair and has been cited by even some prominent Malays for holding Malaysia back.

"In the coming election, the voice of the people will be heard and this corrupt government will be toppled from its pedestals of power," read a Twitter message from Anwar's account, minutes after the verdict.

Three explosions were heard in the parking area outside the courthouse where protesters had gathered. Ramli Mohamed Yoosuf, a police spokesman, said two people were injured and taken to hospital.

A preliminary investigation found that two explosive devices were placed under police cones, but it was not clear who was responsible.

Anwar has long contended the trial was a plot by the ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition to prevent him from taking power at the next election, which is not due until 2013 but may be called this year before a potential global downturn stalls Malaysia's economic growth.

"(The verdict) will be more wind in the sails of the opposition Pakatan's camp than in Barisan Nasional's camp," said Ooi Kee Beng, a deputy director at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies of Singapore.

"Najib can of course say that the judiciary is not as corrupt as Pakatan says but so what? If the judiciary is not very corrupt, it doesn't mean that the government is good."

"Independent judiciary"

Najib's approval ratings have fallen over the year due to a growing religious divide that has alienated minority non-Muslims and fanned middle-class anger over inflation and the slow pace of promised political reforms.

Najib's government cited the verdict as evidence that the judicial system was independent under his leadership and as a sign his reforms were working. That line of argument could weaken the opposition by depriving it of one of its main accusations: that the courts are skewed towards the government.

"Malaysia has an independent judiciary and this verdict proves that the government does not hold sway over judges' decisions," the government said in a statement that also praised Najib's "bold democratic reforms."

The verdict also helps Najib avoid international condemnation of Malaysian courts at a time when he hopes to improve ties with the United States and Europe.

Earlier, about 2 000 Anwar supporters had gathered outside the court, chanting "reformasi" (reform) and carrying banners reading "People are the judge" and "We are against slander" under heavy police presence.

Anwar behind bars could have been a powerful unifying force for Malaysia's opposition, and now that he is freed he faces the difficult task of trying to bring together disparate strands into one movement that could challenge Najib, said Shaun Levine, an Asia analyst with political risk consultancy Eurasia Group in Washington.

"This puts pressure on Najib to call the election even sooner," Levine said.

  • Larry - 2012-01-09 08:54


      Loki.god.of.awesome - 2012-01-09 09:35

      You forgot the 'ry' at the end there ;)

      Blade - 2012-01-09 10:07

      Sod it!

  • nspaynter - 2012-01-09 09:12

    I am homosexual I have never had, or have any interest, in sodomy. I know other homosexuals who are not interested in anal intercourse. I also know straight couples who indulge in sodomy. Why is it that when people, and I include many homosexuals, immediately presume that all homosexuals enjoy sodomy? Homosexual not equal sodomy! I also know of many prisoners who indulge in sodomy with other male prisoners but they are not homosexuals! Many of them are pretending that the guy they are doing it with is a woman. (In fact that's exactly what is being described in Leviticus 18:22 in the Bible.)

      STYLEbudd - 2012-01-09 09:20

      fully agree with nspaynter..... its all based on assumptions and rooted in homophobic mindsets that the world lives by. Sad but true. When will we wake up and realise that this is reality there are gay , bi and straight people in the world, all created in God's image. Homosexuality is too often associated with sodomy and this is far from the truth....

      nspaynter - 2012-01-09 09:52

      And there's nothing basically wrong with sodomy. People use the story of Sodom in the Bible. The emphasis is on forced rape not on sodomy as such. Some Christians encourage married couples to have sodomy as a form of natural birth control. If it's OK for straight people it's OK for gay couples..... If sodomy really is a sin, to is a sin in a heterosexual relationship as well, and that doesn't make sense to me.

      nspaynter - 2012-01-09 10:03

      And my perception is that most homophobic people find sodomy distasteful. In other words they really are sodomyphobic. When people discover that I am homosexual they express their displeasure and I ask them straight out whether they think I am having anal intercourse. When I tell them I am not doing anal intercourse it confuses them completely. I explain that as a homosexual I am sexually attracted to other men and not to women. I didn't choose to be that way. Then they are a lot more accepting.

      Gail - 2012-01-09 11:20

      Thank you nspaynter for speaking out and using your own name. People are so judgemental of anything that is unusual and frequently they speak from pure ignorance and bigotry. I have pointed out these facts before as the mother of a gay son. Leviticus notwithstanding the interpretation and all other religions which condemn certain practices in modern society need to realise that what people do in private consensually as adults is their own affaair and that the whole gay rights movement which can sometimes be detrimental to their cause is less about the intimacy and more about a person's right to love and commit to someone of the same sex for life if they so choose and thus be each others next of kin in law particularly in matters of property and also medically.

      nspaynter - 2012-01-09 11:51

      Gail, thanks for your comments. So often we put people into boxes with a label on it and we are expected to perform according to that label. I am a Christian and I remember way back "hiding in the closet" petrified that somebody would find out and listening to what the "standard" Christian had to say about homosexuals. Then one day I had enough and I first went to speak to my minister. Do you know what he said to me? He'd already worked out that I was gay! He was a social worker before going into the ministry and had already dealt with homosexuals. I had his full support. I am not a stereotypical gay, and I am not a stereotypical Christian. I do not conform to labels. I am just me and I just want to be me. It's no fun pretending to be something I am not.

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