PUTRAJAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Malaysia's Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on Thursday (Jan 11) dismissed an opposition claim that he ordered the Prisons Department to block opposition leader Tun Mahathir Mohamad from visiting Anwar Ibrahim in hospital on Wednesday.
"The decision did not come from the minister. On operational matters, I give my full trust to the departments under the Home Ministry," Datuk Seri Zahid, who is also Deputy Prime Minister told reporters.
Questions were raised by the opposition after Dr Mahathir was stopped at the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital from visiting Anwar, who now co-lead the opposition alliance with Dr Mahathir.
Anwar is behind bars to serve a sentence for sodomy and was at the hospital in Selangor for physical rehabilitation. Prisoners in Malaysia are not allowed to have visitors unless they are family members.
But both Prime Minister Najib Razak and Mr Zahid were allowed to meet Anwar last November in Hospital Kuala Lumpur when he underwent a shoulder surgery.
Prisons director-general Zulkifli Omar, who was also at the PM Najib press conference on Thursday, said the department did not receive any formal application from Dr Mahathir for the visit.
"If there was an application, it could have been considered, but that is still subject to approval. In the past when he (Anwar) received visitors, formal applications were made.
"According to Section 26 of the Prisons Act, when a prisoner is in a hospital, it is still like he is in prison. Therefore, he remains governed by prison rules, and any approval for visits can only be given by the prison," said Datuk Seri Zulkifli.
He added: "Family members are allowed to visit prisoners in the hospital. However, other visitors require special permission."
Dr Mahathir was welcomed at the Cheras rehabilitation hospital by Anwar's daughter, MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, but he was not allowed the meet his former deputy prime minister.
Anwar is slated to be released on June 8, after getting a one-third remission for his five-year sentence for sodomy.
Dr Mahathir and Anwar last met on Sept 5, 2016 - their first meeting in 18 years. Dr Mahathir had gone to the Kuala Lumpur High Court, where Anwar was attending a hearing.
That meeting led to the thaw in tense ties between the two leaders. Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister then, had sacked his then-deputy prime minister Anwar in 1998.
Dr Mahathir is now chairman of the four-party opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan, and Anwar its de-facto chief.