US 'deeply disappointed' by jailing of Malaysia's Anwar

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - The United States said on Tuesday it was "deeply disappointed and concerned" over the decision by Malaysia's highest court to send opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to jail for five years on a politically charged sodomy conviction.

"The United States is deeply disappointed and concerned by the rejection of Anwar Ibrahim's final appeal and his conviction," the US embassy in Kuala Lumpur said in a statement.

"The United States has followed the trial of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim closely. The decision to prosecute Mr Anwar, and his trial, have raised serious concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the courts," it added.

Government critics say the sodomy case is part of a long-running campaign to destroy Anwar, who was ousted from the ruling party in the late 1990s and later helped unite a previously divided and hapless opposition into a formidable force.

Anwar's conviction is expected to have a big impact on Malaysia's political landscape, which recently saw a rejuvenated opposition coalition gaining significant electoral ground from the long ruling government.

"The United States and Malaysia have a strong partnership, and in the context of this relationship, we have regularly raised our serious concerns regarding the Anwar case with Malaysian officials and emphasised that fairness, transparency, and the rule of law are essential to promote confidence in Malaysia's judicial system and democracy," the embassy said.

Ties between the two countries were strained during the rule of Mahathir Mohamad but have warmed markedly since Prime Minister Najib Razak took over and Malaysia is now one of Washington's staunchest allies in Southeast Asia.

US President Barack Obama visited last year, the first sitting US president to do so in nearly 50 years.