Anwar acquitted in sodomy trial
09 January 2012, 09:45
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
"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.
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.
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.