Jailed de facto Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim can proceed with courtroom efforts to challenge a rejection of his bid two years ago where he sought a royal pardon for his sodomy conviction, Malaysia’s Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday.
A three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the founder of the People’s Justice Party (PJR) and political foe of Prime Minister Najib Razak could try to pursue a legal challenge to a decision by the Pardons Board in March 2015. It rejected his petition for a pardon that could have freed him from prison, where he is serving a five-year sentence, according to reports.
Wednesday’s ruling means that Anwar can take his case to Malaysia’s Federal Court, which can then decide whether he has the constitutional right to challenge the board’s decision, Reuters reported.
“I’m here for the big fight,” Anwar, 69, told reporters in court before being whisked away by prison officers following the ruling, according to the news service.
The move offers Anwar and his family some hope that he may be able to regain his freedom earlier than expected, according to his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the president of PKR. Previously, she had said that the decision by the Pardons Boards could not be disputed.
“However, Anwar has raised legal questions based on a case in the United Kingdom and the amendment of Article 40 (1A) [of the] Federal Constitution in 1994, in which Anwar’s lawyers argued that the two issues above have major implications that if the Federal Court agreed with them, the results of the Pardon Board are questionable,” she told BenarNews on Wednesday.
“We will be in court on Feb. 2, for this matter,” she added.
Anwar’s legal battles
Anwar is serving a five-year term at Sungai Buloh Prison for sodomizing a former aide in 2008.
In June 2012, Anwar was acquitted of a sodomy charge by Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin. The judge was not convinced that a DNA sample taken from the former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukari, had not been tainted.
But on March 7, 2014, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision and sentenced Anwar to five years in prison. On Feb. 10, 2015, a Federal Court panel chaired by Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria rejected Anwar’s appeal and maintained the conviction.
In March 2015, the Pardons Board rejected his petition for a royal pardon, but in June of that year, Anwar, Wan Azizah and their two daughters, Nurul Izzah and Nurul Nuha, filed a petition to have the board’s ruling cancelled.
Anwar sought permission to challenge and revoke the board’s decision and urged it to advise Malaysia’s king to grant amnesty and release him. His wife and daughters sought an order to compel the board to reconvene and to consider all materials relating to the family’s petition for a royal pardon.
Wednesday’s decision occurred just over a month after it appeared that Ibrahim had lost his final courtroom battle to be freed from prison before the end of his sentence. On Dec. 14, 2016, the High Court rejected his petition to review the 2014 conviction, ruling unanimously that his application had no merit.
“This is not a fit and proper case for the court to use its inherent jurisdiction,” High Court Chief Judge Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin said in handing down last month’s decision.
A prosecutor at the time said Anwar had exhausted all legal avenues to have his conviction and sentence overturned. Any appeal before the Pardons Board appeared futile because of its previous rejection.
Unless Anwar is pardoned, he cannot challenge Najib in a general election scheduled for mid-2018. Malaysian law disqualifies a person who has been convicted from running for political office, according to Reuters.