Sodomy trial of Malaysia’s Anwar starts after lawyers fail to secure further delays

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sodomy trial of Malaysia’s Anwar starts

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim went on trial Wednesday for allegedly sodomizing a male aide, a charge that he says is a high-level government conspiracy aimed at destroying his political movement.

The trial started in the Kuala Lumpur High Court after Anwar’s lawyers exhausted efforts to put the proceedings on hold because of unresolved technicalities, including their requests for advance access to the prosecution’s medical evidence in the case.

Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah, who presided over proceedings, adjourned the hearing immediately as lawyers from both sides waited for Anwar to enter the court room.

Anwar is accused of sodomizing 24-year-old Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a former election worker and aide, on June 26, 2008 at a private condominium. Saiful lodged a police complaint two days later.

Anwar insists the charge was fabricated by Prime Minister Najib Razak and his government to knock out the opposition, which severely eroded the ruling coalition’s grip on power in March 2008 general elections. Najib has denied conspiring against Anwar.

It is the second time in his political career that Anwar, 62, has been charged for the crime punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment in this Muslim-majority country.

Hearings for the trial were repeatedly postponed since August 2008 as Anwar’s lawyers sought to have the charge dropped, claiming there was no medical evidence of sodomy to warrant a trial and demanding that the prosecution show its evidence to the defense in advance.

Judge Diah refused to grant further adjournments, saying the prosecution can deliver its opening statements and start calling witnesses.

“We want a fair trial,” Anwar’s lawyer Karpal Singh said, adding that his client should be “given every opportunity” to obtain material for his defense.

Anwar was previously charged in 1998 and convicted of sodomizing his family driver, but Malaysia’s top court overturned the conviction in 2004. Anwar, who was deputy prime minister in the 1990s, had maintained his innocence, insisting he was framed to prevent him from challenging then-leader Mahathir Mohamad.

A prison sentence of at least one year would bar Anwar from politics for five years from the date of his release. That would be a huge setback to his three-party People’s Alliance, the only rival to Najib’s National Front coalition, which has been in power since 1957.

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