Malaysian opposition leader Anwar found guilty in Sodomy II case; 5-year jail term upheld

PUTRAJAYA - Malaysia’s opposition has lost its iconic and unifying leader after Anwar Ibrahim’s appeal against a controversial sodomy conviction was dismissed by the Federal Court.

His five-year jail term, given by the Court of Appeal was also upheld by the court.

At the end of the arguments on sentencing, the court allowed Anwar to speak, but he attacked the bench, who told him to stop and then adjourned.

"You have become partners in crime in the murder of judiciary integrity. You chose the dark side," was what he was saying when the Chief Justice tried to stop him.

But he continued even after the judges walked out, ending his tirade with: "I will not be silenced. I will continue to fight for freedom and justice. I will never surrender."

Which prompted his supporters in court to shout: "Allahuakbar" (God is Great)

Earlier, during the reading of the verdict, Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria said the court agreed with the prosecution that Mohd Saiful, who accused Anwar of sodomising him, is a "reliable and truthful person".

He added: "It is beyond reasonable doubt that (Saiful) was sodomised by the appellant. So the appeal is dismissed."

"What's new?" Anwar said as he hugged Pakatan Rakyat leaders before talking to his legal team. 

A statement from the Malaysian government said: “The judges will have reached their verdict only after considering all the evidence in a balanced and objective manner. Malaysia has an independent judiciary, and there have been many rulings against senior government figures.

“The police report against Anwar Ibrahim was brought by a private individual – Anwar’s employee and personal assistant – not by the government. As the victim of a serious sexual assault, he had every right to have his case heard in court. “In this case, exhaustive and comprehensive due process has been followed over many years. That process is now complete, and we call on all parties involved to respect the legal process and the judgment.”

The ruling threatens to end the 68-year-old’s political career as he must serve a five-year ban from elections following the five-year jail term.

Accused of sodomising his former aide in 2008, Anwar has claimed that the trial is a conspiracy involving the highest levels of government, including Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has denied any interference.

Chief Justice Arifin, who led the five-member panel of the Federal Court, began the hearing on Anwar's second sodomy case at 10.10am by running through the facts and chronology of events. 

He focused on the issue of consent, and whether there was evidence of penetration.

The Chief Justice said that the Court Of Appeal ruled that Saiful's failure to escape was not relevant as case is not about consent but penetration.

At one point, things started looking bad for the politician when he said that the judges found Saiful a "credible witness", and started citing a number of factors that boosted his allegations.

He added that the Evidence Act did not require corroboration in sexual offences and there was ample corroborative evidence to back Saiful's testimony.

On the samples, he said they were not compromised, and Anwar's argument they were tampered with was unsustainable.

As the judge's statement was read out, one of Anwar's children broke out into tears.

The politician entered the Federal Court complex on Tuesday morning, waving and chatting with supporters. He then entered the courtroom to hear the verdict over his appeal against a five-year jail sentence for sodomy.

Lead prosecutor Shafee Abdullah also arrived at Malaysia's apex Federal Court on Tuesday morning to a packed crowd of supporters and press outside to learn the final verdict, after nearly seven years and countless court hearings.

The Star reported that mounted police units were seen patrolling the area outside the Palace of Justice, as the media and supporters began to gather outside.

Roadblocks were set up in the vicinity as early as 5.50am, and Anwar's supporters began walking to the Palace of Justice at 8.15am, according to the newspaper.

Saiful accused Anwar of sodomising him in June 2008, just months after the opposition leader formed opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat (PR), which denied Barisan Nasional (BN) a two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time since Malaysia became independent in 1957.

Anwar has often been key to negotiating political compromises among the ideologically disparate parties in the opposition alliance. If he is found guilty, it would put an immense strain on the unity of the seven-year-old tripartite alliance which comprises Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

PR failed to resolve major disputes at a long-awaited leadership powwow on Sunday, deciding instead to defer discussions until after the verdict in Anwar's trial. After the hour-long meeting, Anwar told reporters that there had been no discussion about replacing him if the apex Federal Court hands down a guilty verdict. 

shannont@sph.com.sg