Malaysia

Judges uphold sodomy conviction against Malaysian opposition leader

anwaribrahimverdict10022015Five judges in Malaysia’s highest court today upheld the conviction of the country’s former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy.

The man who is Malaysia’s leading opposition figure will be going back to jail for five years.

Anwar says the case against him was fabricated by his political enemies. He has already spent two years in political detention and six years in prison after an earlier conviction on corruption and sodomy charges.

The prosecution had appealed for a harsher punishment, but the Federal Court judges maintained the Appeal Court sentence.

The conviction disqualifies Anwar, aged 67, from political office and from contesting the next election that must be held by 2018. This was his last avenue for appeal.

The Court of Appeal found Anwar guilty of sodomising his former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008 and imposed a five-year prison sentence. Anwar was then acquitted by the High Court in 2012, but the Court of Appeal overturned the decision in March last year, just days before he was to contest the Kajang by-election.

Today, Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria said the judges agreed with the prosecution statement that Saiful was a reliable and truthful person and found him to be a credible witness. There was overwhelming evidence against Anwar, he said.

The judge stated that the Evidence Act did not require corroboration in sexual offences. (The High Court had ruled that the chemists’ evidence did not corroborate Saiful’s testimony.) He said the evidence of the complainant could be relied upon without corroboration.

Addressing the court, Anwar vowed that he would continue to fight for justice and freedom. “I will not surrender,” he pledged.

The judges left the bench in protest when he said they had bowed to their political masters.

Human Rights Watch condemned the judges’ ruling, calling it a travesty of justice.

Anwar said in a statement after the ruling: “I maintain my innocence of this foul charge – this incident never happened.

“This is complete fabrication – coming from a political conspiracy to stop my political career.”

He added: “It is not a coincidence how the PM was able to release a full written statement on your decision barely minutes after you handed your judgement today, even before sentencing.

“In bowing to the dictates of the political masters, you have become partners in crime for the murder of judicial independence and integrity. You have sold your souls to the devil, bartering your conscience for material gain and comfort and security of office.”

The U.N. Human Rights office said it was “disappointed” by the court ruling. “The bottom line for us is the charge in this case should not be a criminal offence,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

The Malaysian government said in its statement that Malaysia had an independent judiciary. “In this case, exhaustive and comprehensive due process has been followed over many years. That process is now complete, and we call on all parties involved to respect the legal process and the judgement.”

It’s clear that removal of Anwar from the political scene is to prime minister Najib Razak’s advantage. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition has ruled since 1957, but, in the 2013 elections, the opposition came close to unseating it and there were allegations of election rigging.

The Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) opposition grouping managed to increase its share in parliament by an additional seven seats and won the popular vote for the first time. The grouping retained control of three state governments.

Court judgements

The charge against Anwar was that he sodomised Saiful, aged 27, at a condominium in Bukit Damansara on June 26, 2008. It was made under Section 377B of the Penal Code and carries a jail sentence of up to 20 years and whipping.

Chief Justice Arifin said today that Anwar did not dispute that he was in the condominium and that Saiful was also there.

He said the panel held that there was no merit in the complaint of political conspiracy and this allegation remained unsubstantiated. A mere denial (from Anwar) did not mean it could be accepted, the judge said.

Justice Arifin said the panel agreed that mere degradation had no effect on DNA profiling in this case. DNA samples were credible despite the degradation, he said.

He said there had been no infringement of Anwar’s constitutional rights when he was arrested and the samples were collected from the items in the lock-up.

The panel of judges agreed that there was corroborative evidence to support Saiful’s testimony, he said, adding that Saiful was not a willing participant.

The Chief Justice said that the Court Of Appeal ruled that Saiful’s failure to escape was not relevant as the case was not about consent, but penetration.

After his first trial on sodomy and corruption charges in 1998, Anwar was convicted and given a nine-year prison sentence.

The verdict was partially overturned in 2004, resulting in Anwar’s release from prison as he had already served his sentence for the corruption offence.

Anwar served as deputy prime minister of Malaysia from 1993 to 1998 and finance minister from 1991 to 1998. He was then a member of UMNO, the major party in BN.

In its briefing about the 1998 case, Amnesty International said: “Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad dismissed Anwar Ibrahim from his posts as deputy prime minister and finance minister on 2 September 1998. The next day the police announced publicly that Anwar was under criminal investigation, and lodged at the High Court a number of affidavits alleging that Anwar had been involved in acts of sexual misconduct, tampering with evidence, bribery and threatening national security.

“Although the allegations were unsubstantiated, and Anwar had not been formally charged, the full contents of the affidavits were publicly released.

“Amnesty International believes that this action was politically motivated and an improper use of judicial procedures. The affidavits received extensive, one-sided coverage in the local press. Anwar denied all the allegations.”

Political repercussions

Anwar, who is the de facto leader of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR), will now lose his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat. Under the Malaysian constitution, citizens are  disqualified from elected office and are barred from standing for election for five years if convicted of an offence by a court of law in the Malaysian federation and sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than one year, or to a fine of not less than 2,000 ringgit (about 559 US$), if they have not received a free pardon.

The deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said after today’s ruling: “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.

“Allowing this travesty of justice to stand will further undermine respect for rights and democracy in Malaysia.”

Najib has admitted that Saiful came to his house just two days before the date that Saiful alleges he was sodomised by Anwar. (Najib was deputy prime minister at the time.) Saiful also acknowledged meeting top police officer Rodwan Mohd Yusof secretly before making his complaint about the alleged sodomy.

Malaysia’s prime minister is becoming increasingly unpopular in a country where people are feeling the financial pinch and are angry about widespread government corruption. Najib is in frequent conflict with Mahathir and has also been criticised by former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin.

Allegations have also re-emerged about Malaysian government involvement in the murder of Mongolian socialite Altantuya Shaariibuu eight years ago. There are accusations that there were corrupt dealings in Malaysia’s purchase of French submarines when Najib was defence minister. Najib and the government deny any wrongdoing.

Following his release by Mahathir’s successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Anwar became the leading figure in the opposition and helped coalesce the opposition parties into the Pakatan Rakyat grouping. The PKR allied itself with the Democratic Action Party (DAP), and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) in 2008, just after the election.

Working together in the 2008 election, the three parties had gained control of five state assemblies and made significant gains at the federal level, denying the BN a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament.

Saiful’s accusation came just months after Pakatan Rakyat was formed.

Reactions

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Thousands of Anwar supporters gathered outside the Palace of Justice and expressed their fury over the verdict. Some cried and some prayed. There were chants calling for reformasi (change) and some protesters waved party flags and shouted “Down with Barisan Nasional”. Saiful’s supporters also gathered outside the court.

The Chief Minister of the state of Penang, Lim Guan Eng, tweeted: “@anwaribrahim found guilty. Awaiting sentencing. Sad sad day for all!”, while PAS central committee member Dzulkefly Ahmad called for people not to give up.

The leader of Pakatan Rakyat in Sarawak, Baru Bian, who is a senior lawyer in private practice, said: “Given the facts before the court, reaching such a decision was beyond logic and reason.

“This day will go down in history as one where Lady Justice was raped and left for dead by the judiciary.”

Political analyst Shahbudin Husin said in a blog posting that a renewed wave of sympathy for Anwar might translate into greater support for Pakatan Rakyat.

“The outpouring of sadness and sympathy for Anwar and his family can be heard nearly everywhere,” he wrote, and many people blamed Najib, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and the government. “Indeed, there’s no sign that Anwar’s imprisonment will return the people’s support for them.”

While there are Malaysians who say Anwar deserves to go to jail, there is a groundswell of anger that his political career has been stopped in its tracks by what many consider to have been a set-up.

family 10403259_10153203606966840_2600623475935387053_nPhoto posted on Anwar’s Facebook page.

Anwar’s full statement:

“I maintain my innocence of this foul charge – this incident never happened.
This is complete fabrication – coming from a political conspiracy to stop my political career.

You have not given proper consideration to the case presented by my counsel from day one –that this incident never happened at all.

I can go on and on but I see from your statement today that it will be fruitless – it appears as I have been condemned again as I was in the court of appeal. Only here we went through a facade of an eight-day hearing!

It is not a coincidence how the PM was able to release a full written statement on your decision barely minutes after you handed your judgement today, even before sentencing.

In bowing to the dictates of the political masters, you have become partners in crime for the murder of judicial independence and integrity. You have sold your souls to the devil, bartering your conscience for material gain and comfort and security of office.

You had the best opportunity to redeem yourselves – to right the wrongs of the past and put the judiciary on a clean slate and carve your names for posterity as true defenders of justice.

But instead you chose to remain on the dark side and drown your morals and your scruples in a sea of falsehood and subterfuge. Know you not that you are now wallowing in filth and foulness and the stench of your injustice will permeate through every nook and cranny of this so-called Palace of Justice and I do pity you all.

Yes, you have passed judgement on me – and I will, again for the third time, walk into prison but rest assured my head will be held high. The light shines on me.

But the shame is on you for you will be judged by history as the great cowards of humanity. Sitting on that high horse of judicial power, you have stooped so low to become the underlings of the political masters.

Students of law and professors of jurisprudence will scrutinise your judgements and as they dissect your reasoning and your decision, your credibility and integrity will be torn to tatters. And you will be exposed as the fraudsters who don the robe of judicial power only to pervert the course of justice.

Do not forget that, as all of us will have to, you too will have to answer to your Maker. You will have to answer why you turned your backs on the principles that you had so solemnly sworn to uphold.

People who come into your court have to bow their heads and address you as ‘My Lords’ but don’t you know that you too will have to answer to your Lord one day? By then you will need more than bowing and prostration to justify why you wilfully transgressed Allah’s command as ordained in Surah an-Nisaa, verse 58: Indeed, Allah commands you to render trusts to whom they are due and when you judge between people to judge with justice. Excellent is that which Allah instructs you. Indeed, Allah is ever Hearing and Seeing.

Going to jail, I consider a sacrifice I make for the people of this country. I have fought most of my life on behalf of the people of this country – for the people I am willing to go to jail or face any other consequence.

My struggle will continue, wherever I am sent and whatever is done to me. To my friends and fellow Malaysians let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support you have given me. And Allah is my witness. I pledge and I will not be silenced, I will fight on for freedom and justice and I will never surrender!”

Anwar Ibrahim
10 Feb 2015

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Malaysian government statement:

“The government has issued the following statement after the Federal Court upheld the Appeal Court’s decision in finding Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim guilty of sodomy.

“The judges will have reached their verdict only after considering all the evidence in a balanced and objective manner. Malaysia has an independent judiciary, and there have been many rulings against senior government figures.

“The police report against Anwar Ibrahim was brought by a private individual – Anwar’s employee and personal assistant – not by the government. As the victim of a serious sexual assault, he had every right to have his case heard in court.

“In this case, exhaustive and comprehensive due process has been followed over many years. That process is now complete, and we call on all parties involved to respect the legal process and the judgement.”

graphic_Anwar_trial_infographic_heza_060215_english

BBC Timeline

  • 1993 to 1998 – Deputy Prime Minister, under Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad
  • 1999 – Jailed for abuse of power, sparking huge street protests
  • 2000 – Found guilty of sodomy with his wife’s driver
  • 2004 – Supreme Court overturns sodomy conviction, freeing him from jail. He quickly emerges as the de facto opposition leader
  • March 2008 – ruling coalition narrowly wins general election, but with its worst results in 50 years. The opposition makes unprecedented gains
  • Aug 2008 – Anwar charged with sodomy for a second time, but despite this is soon voted in as an MP
  • Feb 2009 – Second trial for sodomy starts
  • Jan 2012 – Acquitted of sodomy by High Court
  • May 2013: Leads opposition to best-ever performance in general elections
  • Mar 2014: 2012 acquittal overturned by court after government appeal

UPDATE:

The US embassy in Kuala Lumpur issued a statement about the Federal Court judgement.

“The United States is deeply disappointed and concerned by the rejection of Anwar Ibrahim’s final appeal and his conviction.

“The United States has followed the trial of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim closely.

“The decision to prosecute Mr. Anwar, and his trial, have raised serious concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the courts.

“The United States and Malaysia have a strong partnership, and in the context of this relationship, we have regularly raised our serious concerns regarding the Anwar case with Malaysian officials and emphasized that fairness, transparency, and the rule of law are essential to promote confidence in Malaysia’s judicial system and democracy.”

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