Petition calls for Obama administration to seek Anwar's release

A PETITION calling for the administration of US President Barack Obama to seek the release of jailed Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has attracted more than 19,000 signatures by Wednesday, a day after it was posted online.

Anwar was sent to prison on Tuesday after Malaysia's highest court upheld his conviction on sodomy charges and his five-year jail sentence. The 67-year-old was also banned from politics for a further five years after his release.

Anwar said the sodomy allegation that was made by his former aide in 2008, just months after he led the opposition to record gains in a general election, was trumped up as part of a government conspiracy.

The White House has issued a statement expressing its "deep disappointment" with Anwar's conviction. It said Anwar's prosecution and the conduct of his trial raised serious concerns about the rule of law and the fairness of the judicial system in Malaysia.

But statements "are not enough", said the petition posted on the White House's official petition website (https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/make-release-malaysian-opposit...).

Calling Anwar "a champion of democracy, a believer in Islamic justice, and a longtime friend of the United States", the petition said: "The Administration must follow its words with action. Anwar is a political prisoner. The future of democracy in Malaysia is at stake.

"Securing Anwar's release from prison must be a top priority in US policy towards Malaysia, to be advanced in every way possible," said the petition, which was created by a "J.M." from Alexandria, Virginia.

The petition must be signed by 100,000 people before the White House is obliged to respond. It had attracted some 19,400 signatures as of 5:30pm on Wednesday, Singapore time.

Petitions that do not reach the threshold for official response will be removed from site.

Besides the US, the European Union, Australia and Canada have also expressed concern over the rule of law and the judiciary in Malaysia since Anwar's jailing on Tuesday.

seokhwai@sph.com.sg