Monday, 9 January 2012

Malaysia's Anwar acquitted could shake ruling Umno party's grip on power?


Anwar Ibrahim sodomy charge dismissed by Malaysian judge

Second acquittal of opposition leader on sex charges is a shock ahead of poll that could shake ruling Umno party's grip on power

Kate Hodal in Bangkokguardian.co.uk

Anwar Ibrahim, flanked by his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail
Anwar Ibrahim, flanked by his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, makes a speech to supporters after his acquittal on sodomy charges. Photograph: Bazuki Muhammad/Reuters



A Malaysian court has acquitted the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy charges in a shock ruling that could fast-forward the former deputy prime minister's political comeback ahead of an expected election this year.

Anwar, 64, was charged in 2008 with having sex with a male former aide. He faced whipping and up to 20 years in jail if found guilty.

The case grabbed headlines with its lurid details in this mainly Muslim country of 28 million, where sex between males is a punishable offence, even if consensual.



In his ruling on Monday morning the judge, Zabidin Mohamad Diah, expressed doubts over the validity of the DNA samples provided as evidence and told the packed Kuala Lumpur courtroom: "Because it was a sexual offence the court is reluctant to convict on uncorroborated evidence. Therefore the accused is acquitted and discharged."

Anwar and his supporters long contested the allegations as a government plot to weaken his three-party coalition, which made unprecedented gains in the 2008 elections. Anwar is considered the glue binding together the allianceof Islamists and an ethnic Chinese party.

"Thank God justice has prevailed," Anwar told reporters after the verdict. "I have been vindicated. To be honest I am a little surprised."\

Some 5,000 supporters awaited the ruling outside the capital courtroom, chanting "reformasi" (reform) and waving "People are the judge" placards as police in riot gear watched and a helicopter flew overhead.

The court decision follows a week-long nationwide tour during which Anwar rallied for support while confirming that his alliance would continue with or without him. "Anwar in jail, Anwar out of jail… it doesn't matter. The more important [thing] is people should overthrow Umno," he told followers, referring to the United Malays National Organisation, which has ruled Malaysia for 50 years.

"I'm not guilty. I'm a victim of slander … there is no case if they follow the facts or the law," he said.
It is the second time in 14 years that Anwar has faced the courts. The former deputy prime minister and finance minister was jailed in 1998 for six years on sodomy and corruption charges after disagreements with the then premier, Mahathir Mohamad, in what was widely seen as a politically motivated prosecution. The sodomy charge was overturned in 2004.

The current government led by Najib Razak as prime minister said the ruling proved Malaysia's legal system was free and impartial, despite claims to the contrary by opposition activists.

"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 released after the verdict.
Online news: Asia

Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted Monday in a surprise end to a politically-charged sodomy trial he has called a government bid to cripple his opposition ahead of upcoming polls.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, seen here before entering the court building in Kuala Lumpur on January 9. Anwar was acquitted on Monday in a surprise end to a politically-charged sodomy trial he has called a government bid to cripple his opposition ahead of upcoming polls.

The ruling by Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah set off pandemonium in the Kuala Lumpur High Court, with Anwar mobbed by his wife, daughters and opposition politicians in joyous scenes.

Thousands of Anwar supporters who gathered outside under heavy security erupted into cheers and raised their fists in the air as news of the verdict filtered out.

In his brief verdict announcement, Zabidin said he could not rely on controversial DNA evidence submitted by the prosecution.

"The court is always reluctant to convict on sexual offences without corroborative evidence. Therefore, the accused is acquitted and discharged," he said.

The verdict in the more than two-year trial defied the expectations of many political observers and even Anwar himself, who said the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak was intent on eliminating him as a political threat.

It was the second sodomy verdict in a dozen years for Anwar, a former deputy premier in the 1990s who was next in line to head the country's long-ruling government until a spectacular downfall.

The charismatic Anwar had been groomed to succeed former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad until a bitter row between them saw Anwar ousted in 1998, beaten and jailed on sodomy and graft charges widely seen as politically motivated.

Once the sodomy charge was overturned in 2004 and he was released, the affair threw Anwar into the opposition, which he led to unprecedented gains against his former ruling party in 2008 general elections.

But the new sodomy charges emerged shortly after those polls -- Anwar was accused of sodomising a former male aide -- sparking accusations they were concocted by the ruling United Malays National Organisation to stall the opposition revival.

Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by 20 years in jail.

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