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Court Rejects Malaysian Opposition Leader’s Lawsuit to Overturn Conviction

Ray Sherman and Hata Wahari
Kuala Lumpur
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Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (center), wife of jailed opposition People’s Justice Party leader Anwar Ibrahim, speaks to during a demonstration to mark his 1,000 days in prison, Nov. 6, 2017.
Courtesy of People’s Justice Party

Jailed de facto Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim failed in his bid for freedom when a Malaysian court on Wednesday dismissed his lawsuit over allegations that the lead prosecutor had received millions of ringgits to handle the case against him.

Anwar filed court documents in June alleging that the appointment of Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, a lawyer in private practice, as lead prosecutor in the appeal over his sodomy conviction went against the attorney general’s usual practice.

Anwar also claimed that the lawyer was not an independent prosecutor and did not discharge his duties fairly, noting he had received a payment of 9.5 million ringgit (U.S. $2.22 million) from Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Kuala Lumpur High Court Judge Azizah Nawawi ruled against Anwar on Wednesday, saying  said the former deputy prime minister had made “bare allegations” about the payment.

“Anwar has not given any evidence to support his allegations,” she said in her judgment and ordered him to pay the Malaysian government 10,000 ringgit ($2,366) in costs.

Anwar, founder of the opposition People’s Justice Party, was charged with sodomizing a former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, in 2008. The High Court acquitted Anwar in 2012 but the Court of Appeal reversed that decision and sentenced him to five years in prison in 2014.

Anwar petitioned the court to set aside his sodomy conviction after a media report on May 31 alleged that Najib had used 1Malaysia Development Berhad funds to pay the lawyer.

N. Surendran, Anwar’s attorney, said he would appeal the ruling.

“We are extremely disappointed on today’s decision. We will argue it at the Court of Appeal,” he told reporters at the court.

Lawyer Muhammad Shafee, who was present to hear the ruling, described the allegation as nonsense.

“I was never paid 9.5 million ringgit to prosecute Anwar,” he said.

In 2015, the government said he was paid 1,000 ringgit ($234) to handle the case.

Najib has not commented on the allegation, but former Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan, who served from 2006 to 2010, questioned its validity. Najib became prime minister in 2009.

This is Anwar’s second sodomy conviction. After he was acquitted in 2004 of a charge filed in 1998, Anwar claimed he was framed by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the party that leads Malaysia’s ruling bloc. Malaysian government officials and UMNO leaders have denied framing Anwar.

1,000 days

On Monday, opposition leaders and supporters gathered outside the Malaysian Parliament and marched to the Independence Square in solidarity with Anwar, who has spent 1,000 days in prison.

Meanwhile, Southeast Asian parliamentarians demanded Anwar’s immediate and unconditional release, saying the opposition leader’s imprisonment exemplified a trend of intensified government persecution against critical voices in Malaysia.

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) called on Malaysian authorities to cease judicial harassment and other forms of intimidation against opposition members and government critics.

“Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction flew in the face of international legal standards and seriously undermined the credibility of Malaysia’s justice system, demonstrating the extent to which the courts have been used as tools of an executive agenda,” said APHR Board Member Teddy Baguilat, a congressman in the Philippines.

“From the beginning, this case was about silencing opposition voices and making it more difficult to challenge the government,” he said. “It’s a trend we’ve been seeing intensify across the region, and it signals even darker days ahead for human rights.”

On Wednesday, Anwar was admitted to a Kuala Lumpur hospital and is scheduled to undergo surgery for shoulder injuries he suffered in a vehicle accident on Sept. 22 while he was being transported to prison following treatment at the hospital. The government said he would be given proper treatment.

“We hope that medical officers from the Health Ministry will provide the best possible treatment and post-surgical care for him,” Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told members of parliament.

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