De facto Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim lost a final courtroom battle for securing his release from prison when Malaysia’s highest court on Wednesday rejected an application to review his 2014 sodomy conviction.
Following the ruling by the Malaysian Federal Court, the 69-year-old founder of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) has exhausted all legal avenues to have his conviction and five-year prison sentence overturned, a prosecutor said.
His only other way out of prison would be to seek clemency from a pardons board, but Malaysia’s king, who chaired a meeting of the board last year, rejected such a bid made then by Anwar.
“I’ll make an announcement in the next two days [about] my next step. I knew this was going to be a long road to achieve freedom,” Anwar told reporters as prison officials led him out of the court after a five-judge panel issued its decision.
The ruling also effectively ended prospects for Anwar to challenge his arch political foe, Prime Minister Najib Razak, in the 14th general election scheduled for mid-2018. Anwar is expected to serve another 16 months in jail and could be released early from Sungai Buloh Prison in April 2018, but Malaysian law disqualifies a person who has been convicted from running for political office, according to Reuters.
The justices, led by High Court of Malaya Chief Judge Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, ruled unanimously that Anwar’s application for a review of his conviction and sentence had no merit.
“This is not a fit and proper case for the court to use its inherent jurisdiction,” Zulkefli said in handing down the court’s decision.
The panel heard Anwar’s application on Oct. 12 to review his conviction and sentence stemming from a sodomy charge dating to 2008, when the politician allegedly committed sexual misconduct against a former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Wednesday’s ruling “a real tragedy of justice” in “a politically motivated case.”
“More than anything, this outcome shows that the Malaysian courts were no match for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s political vendetta against Anwar,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a statement.
“With this final decision running roughshod over Anwar’s rights and sending him back to prison, Najib and the ruling UMNO party have just fired the starting gun on the expected 2018 election by permanently sidelining the political opposition’s most capable leader.”
Anwar is serving his second jail term. In 1998, he was sentenced to six years on sodomy and corruption charges, which Anwar, a former deputy to then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, called politically motivated.
At the time Anwar was second in line for the leadership of the ruling United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, but fell out with its chief, Mahathir. Mahathir has since left the party after becoming Prime Minister Najib’s fiercest critic.
Anwar and Mahathir recently reconciled and both vowed to unseat Najib by forming a solid opposition bloc.
Anwar initially was acquitted of the latest sodomy charge by Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Mohamad Zabidin on Jan. 9, 2012. The judge found said the court was not convinced that a DNA sample taken from Saiful had not been tainted.
But on March 7, 2014, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision to acquit Anwar and sentenced him to five years in jail.
On Feb. 10, 2015, a five-judge panel in Federal Court, chaired by Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria, rejected Anwar’s appeal and maintained the conviction.
‘Anwar can’t accept this decision’
Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is president of the PKR, appeared dejected when the court issued its decision Wednesday. She later declined to answer questions from reporters in the lobby of the courthouse in Putrajaya, but she did address supporters of her husband.
“I see continued support to this struggle until this very day and this has helped me to strengthen my spirit to keep on fighting,” Wan Azizah said.
Anwar’s attorney. N. Surendran, said the legal team would examine the written judgment of the court before announcing any further action.
“Anwar can’t accept this decision and [neither can] his family members,” Surendran said.
Meanwhile, one of the prosecutors told local news portal MalaysiaKini report on Wednesday that Anwar had run out of legal options.
“He has exhausted all legal channels. As far as the court knows, Anwar had run out of option, unless he is given a royal pardon,” Tengku Amir, a member of the prosecution team said in the MalaysiaKini report.
Surendran said his client does have one option left in his efforts to get of out jail, but that does not involve going through the courts: seeking a royal pardon from Malaysia’s new king, Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan, who was sworn in as monarch on Tuesday.
Opposition leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (with microphone) addresses supporters outside the federal courthouse in Putrajaya, Dec. 14, 2016. [Hata Wahari/BenarNews].