Court allows Anwar to revive pardon bid

Lifeline thrown to jailed opposition leader whose bid for clemency was rejected in 2015

Jailed opposition icon Anwar Ibrahim was thrown a lifeline yesterday, when Malaysia's Court of Appeal allowed him to petition the Federal Court and challenge the Pardons Board's 2015 rejection of his bid for clemency.

"I am here for the big fight. But this decision is welcomed," said Anwar after the court's decision.

The unanimous judgment by a three-man Bench will enable Anwar to take his case to Malaysia's apex court and could open the way for others to question the Pardons Board's decision-making process.

Currently, Malaysian prisoners who fail to get a pardon are not able to challenge the decision via a judicial review.

Said lawyer N. Surendran: "This decision gives an impact to other prisoners because if Anwar and his family succeed, it opens the path for others who may be facing the same problem and wish to challenge the Pardons Board's decision."

Anwar's application to challenge the board's decision was dismissed by the High Court last year, so his lawyers turned to the Court of Appeal yesterday. Its decision marks the first time Anwar has had a glimmer of hope over his 2014 sodomy conviction. He has alleged that the sodomy charges and conviction were politically motivated. After losing his appeal at the Federal Court in February 2015, he began serving a five-year sentence.

Anwar and his family have exhausted all legal avenues - he filed a judicial review against the conviction and also sought a royal pardon. Both applications failed, so he is now pursuing the latter by challenging the board's decision to reject his request for clemency.

Up until his imprisonment, Anwar was widely seen as a candidate for prime minister if the opposition wins power in the next general election. Elected MPs are disqualified if they are jailed for more than a year.

However, much has changed in the opposition political landscape since his exit from politics, with Parti Islam SeMalaysia leaving the opposition pact and former premier, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, forming a party of Umno rebels.

Anwar was deputy prime minister until his sacking in 1998 following a public spat with Dr Mahathir, but has since mended ties with his old boss.

Parties founded by both former leaders are working together to defeat Prime Minister Najib Razak in the next polls, which are expected to be held this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Court allows Anwar to revive pardon bid'. Print Edition | Subscribe