Malaysia's Anwar awaits latest court case
Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim faces return to jail in hearing Tuesday.

On the eve of a court hearing that could see him returned to prison, the leader of Malaysian opposition politics has told Anadolu Agency that he trusts his compatriots to "act according to their consciences."

Anwar Ibrahim has been at the heart of Malaysia’s opposition for more than a decade and has faced repeated criminal charges that he and Western observers claim are politically motivated -- leading one Australian politician to remark recently that he has "more charges against him than Muhammad Ali has had punches."

On Tuesday and Wednesday Anwar, leader of the opposition People’s Alliance, will appear before the Federal Court in Kuala Lumpur to appeal his March conviction and jail sentence for sodomy.

If the court finds against him he faces a five-year jail term and similar period of disqualification from politics after leaving prison.

There are fears his imprisonment would lead to political unrest and violence. Commenting on the possibility of the case sparking tension, Anwar told an Anadolu Agency correspondent: "If the worst happens, I cannot say what form the protests would take but I trust the wisdom of Malaysians to act according to their consciences."

The charismatic former deputy prime minister said he was "still hopeful that the highest court will vindicate based on facts."

In a telephone interview, Anwar, 67, told how he had been urged to flee into exile by supporters.

"I have been urged to stay in London or Istanbul to avoid the court, because the international legal community and the general public all consider the Malaysian judiciary as not independent," he said.

"But I decided to come back because I am innocent and there is no law that can condemn an innocent man."

The case is the latest in a long line of legal troubles Anwar has faced since falling out with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad in the late 1990s, when he was a rising star of the ruling United Malay National Organization, known as UMNO. He was imprisoned on corruption charges in 1999, charges that, along with a sentence for sodomy in 2000, were overturned in 2004.

The current allegation stems from claims made by a former assistant in 2008, shortly after Anwar led the opposition to its best electoral performance since independence, gaining more than a third of parliamentary seats.

He was acquitted in 2012 by the High Court, which cited tainted DNA evidence, but the acquittal was overturned by the Court of Appeal in March.

Anwar, a father-of-six, said he recognized the risk of returning to prison.

"I am realistic enough to understand the risk to be sent to prison, but what example would I set for the young Malaysians who claim freedom if I did not face the court?" he asked.

The wider implication of Anwar’s possible jail term is the reaction it will receive on the streets. His imprisonment in 1999 triggered mass anti-government protests and the decline of the United Malay National Organization and its allies.

The group has been in power since independence in 1957 but in last year’s general election it won fewer votes than the People’s Alliance. It still managed to cling to power under Malaysian electoral rules.

Anwar dubbed it the "worst electoral fraud in our history" and the result led to rallies of tens of thousands of black-clad protesters.

Since the election, Prime Minister Najib Razak has cracked down on civil liberties and arrested student and civil society leaders.

Last week Human Rights Watch called on the government to drop the case against Anwar "or risk making a travesty of the country’s criminal justice system."

In a statement, the group’s Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson said: "This drawn-out political theatre has long been exposed as an attempt by the government to take Malaysia’s most senior opposition leader out of political contention."

Even if the court upholds his acquittal, there are other charges lurking in the background. He is currently under investigation for sedition for comments he made in a political speech three years ago.

Last Modified: 2014-10-27 12:07:22
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