On the first anniversary of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s incarceration, his wife and international human rights organizations demanded that the government release him from prison.
Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Ibrahim’s wife who is president of his People’s Justice Party (PKR), said the international community recognized her husband as a leader of a popular movement to reform government in Malaysia as well as a political victim of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, which heads the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance.
“Yes, Anwar is inside the prison and still listening to our shouts for reform. He constantly reminds us to be strong and continue to unite against inhumane treatment,” she told BenarNews on Wednesday.
“He is our symbol of struggle and solidarity among opposition to the BN. We need to stand and fight," Wan Azizah said.
Along with requesting his release, the human rights groups on Wednesday asked that he be allowed to travel outside of the country for necessary medical treatment.
Anwar was taken into custody on Feb. 10, 2015, to begin serving a five-year prison sentence on a sodomy charge.
Last year, a Federal Court dismissed Anwar’s appeal and ordered him to serve the prison term after he was convicted of sodomizing a former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, in 2008. Saiful issued a statement Wednesday, calling on Anwar to use his time in prison to seek forgiveness.
On Tuesday night, about 500 people, including PKR activists and other non-governmental organizations, gathered in front of the Sungai Buloh Prison near Kuala Lumpur to push for Anwar’s release.
Wan Azizah said her husband’s condition was deteriorating.
"Anwar can’t lift his right hand due to illness. He lifts his left hand … with his left hand he is still able to shout out reforms,” she said.
During the rally Anwar’s wife released a dove as a symbol of freedom, while their children screened a video tribute to their father and read a poem, "Perjalanan Bu Aminah” (“The journey of Bu Aminah”) by W.S. Rendra.
“Malaysia’s conviction of Anwar Ibrahim was politically motivated, and he’s already suffered through a year in prison from this travesty of justice,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement demanding Anwar’s release.
Other international organizations issuing statements in support of Anwar were Lawyers for Liberty and Worldwide Movement for Human Rights.
The U.N. Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion in November calling Anwar’s imprisonment arbitrary and against international law, Lawyers group Executive Director Eric Paulsen said.
“Any additional day Anwar spends behind bars is one more day of shame for the Malaysian government and further tarnishes its battered reputation,” said Karim Lahidji, the Worldwide Movement’s executive director.
In his statement, Saiful said people had been misled into believing that Anwar was a political prisoner, not a genuine felon.
“I was the victim in this case. Am I not human, that my rights as a victim are denied by human rights groups,” Saiful said.
“To the outsiders, especially the foreign countries and international bodies that believe [Anwar’s supporters], let me tell you that he is not a political prisoner’,” Saiful added.
The former aide to Anwar wished his ex-boss good health and peace in prison, and expressed hope that Anwar would use his time in jail to reflect on himself and seek forgiveness.
“This has nothing to do with democratic oppression. Stop giving support and funds because these are blatant lies,” Saiful said.