Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim received a royal full-pardon Wednesday, his lawyer and a Royal Household statement said, as he walked freely out of a Kuala Lumpur hospital where he had undergone treatment while in police custody.
Anwar, a twice-jailed 70-year-old former deputy prime minister, was freed after spending three years in prison and days after the opposition alliance that he jointly led pulled off a surprise election triumph and ushered the political downfall of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
“His Majesty the King, Sultan Muhammad V, under the advice of the Pardon Board … has declared that the appeal for full pardon and immediate release of Anwar Ibrahim is approved,” Wan Ahman Dahlan Abdul Aziz, comptroller of the Royal Household, said in a statement.
Anwar’s lawyer, Sivarasa Rasiah, told reporters that the king’s full pardon would mean that all of the former opposition leader’s past convictions have been expunged.
“He is not only physically free, but also free to participate in the country’s politics as though the past conviction did not exist,” Sivarasa said.
Wearing a custom-tailored black suit, Anwar smiled, gave thumbs up and waved while dozens of cameramen snapped his photographs as he emerged from the hospital where he had undergone surgery for a shoulder injury.
He immediately boarded a car without issuing any statement.
Anwar has spent eight of the past 20 years in prison on what his supporters claimed were politically-motivated sodomy charges, including one that was orchestrated by Najib.
But prospects that Anwar will immediately take over as the country’s prime minister appeared bleak on Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad issued a statement saying he intends to remain the nation’s leader for “one or two years.”
The opposition bloc devastated the country’s dominant coalition during the May 9 general election. Anwar’s party, PKR, won 48 of the 113 parliamentary seats captured by the four-party opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH) and he is widely expected to succeed Mahathir once the 92-year-old premier steps down from office.
Mahathir had pledged during the electoral campaign that he would hand over power to Anwar. He stunned the nation in February 2016 when he left the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the anchor party in a ruling bloc that has dominated Malaysian politics since independence from Britain in 1957. Mahathir then joined forces with Anwar, his former arch nemesis, whom he once sent to jail on a sodomy charge.
Sodomy carries a jail term of up to 20 years in Muslim-majority Malaysia. Without the absolute pardon from the king, Anwar would have been disqualified for five years from running for office after his release. The king’s pardon would pave the way for his return to national politics, lawyers said.
Anwar was kicked out as Mahathir’s deputy prime minister on Sept. 2, 1998, amid reports he was under police investigation. He was sentenced to six years in prison for corruption in April 1999 and nine years in prison for sodomy in August 2000. He was freed four years later after the country’s top court dismissed his sodomy conviction, but his corruption conviction stood.
The most recent roadblocks for Anwar assuming power began with his second sodomy conviction. He was acquitted on the charge in 2012, but the Court of Appeal reversed the decision two years later and ordered the five-year sentence.
Anwar solidified his image as a stalwart opposition figure when he suffered a black eye while under police custody in September 1988, shortly after he was detained for allegedly leading an anti-government rally. His photo with a black eye and one hand raised became a symbol of the political opposition in many posters.
As this week’s historic vote unfolded, Anwar was confined as a prisoner at Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital in the country’s capital, after suffering a shoulder injury while being transported in a prison van.
Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, stayed with him at the hospital. She has been named as the country’s new deputy prime minister after being elected to the 222-seat parliament while representing the PKR party.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, in a statement emailed to BenarNews, reminded Malaysians not to forget the injustice that Anwar faced while serving "a long sentence for a crime that should never have been considered a crime."
"It's not surprising that there has now been this political solution, in the form of a new government granting his freedom, to his case which former Prime Minister Najib shamelessly politicized from the very start to sideline a formidable political opponent," Robertson said.
On Tuesday, Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, told reporters that she grappled with the possibility that her father could observe Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, together with his family.
"This is one of the sweetest gifts we can have as a family,” she said.