Malaysia prepares for politically-charged sodomy trial of opposition leader

By Eileen Ng, AP
Monday, February 1, 2010

Malaysia readies for Anwar’s sodomy trial

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Scores of supporters greeted Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim as he arrived in court Tuesday to face a sodomy trial he says has been engineered by his enemies to destroy his political movement.

Dressed in gray shirt and jacket, Anwar was almost knocked down by a throng of television crews jostling to get near him as he arrived at the Kuala Lumpur High Court for the start of his long-awaited trial.

Supporters shouted “Reform! reform!” as he got out of the car with wife Wan Azizah and waved at a crowd that included many opposition leaders.

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, was charged in August 2008 with sodomizing a 25-year-old male former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

Previously, he had spent six years in prison after being convicted of corruption and an earlier sodomy charge, following his ouster from the Cabinet in 1998. He maintained his innocence all along and was freed in 2004 when Malaysia’s top court overturned the sodomy conviction.

Sodomy is a crime in this Muslim-majority country, carrying a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Anwar, 62, has consistently denied the charges on both occasions, calling them conspiracies to kill his political career, the first time to prevent him from challenging then-leader Mahathir Mohamad.

He says the latest charge is designed to undermine his three-party opposition alliance, which made massive inroads during March 2008 general elections. Government officials deny plotting against Anwar.

A guilty conviction would deal a massive blow to the opposition alliance, which has appeared to be on the verge of breaking the ruling party’s stranglehold on power for the first time since independence in 1957.

But the alliance, whose members have widely differing political ideologies, is already showing cracks because of long-standing differences coming to the surface. Anwar’s conviction could widen those cracks.

The trial was supposed to start last summer but has been delayed by a series of applications by defense lawyers. On Friday, Malaysia’s top court rejected their latest bid to force the prosecution to provide medical reports, camera recordings and other evidence ahead of the trial.

The Federal Court ruled the prosecution was not obliged to provide those materials.

However, Anwar’s lawyer, Sankara Nair, has made another application to postpone the trial pending the outcome of a separate appeal before a different court.

The High Court will hear the postponement application Tuesday before deciding whether to proceed with the actual trial.

Anwar was in a political wilderness after his first sodomy conviction. He revived his career with the March 2008 elections, when his alliance won more than one-third of the seats in Parliament amid public disenchantment with the National Front governing coalition.

However, new Prime Minister Najib Razak has regained some of the ground lost by his predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

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