Malaysian Court Acquits Anwar of Sodomy

Posted January 9th, 2012 at 5:15 am (UTC-5)
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Malaysia's high court has acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy charges.

The judge ruled Monday that the DNA used by prosecutors as evidence was not reliable. The judge also said there was not enough corroborating evidence proving that Anwar had sex with a former male aide.

Homosexuality is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia. Anwar faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.

Anwar told reporters the verdict frees him to focus on trying to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak's long-ruling coalition in this year's general elections.

“I thank God for this great news. I'm finally vindicated. It is a tough few years for us, continuous smearing, scurrilous attacks on my character, and I thank (his wife Wan) Azizah and my family for being steadfast with me.”

Anwar is a former deputy prime minister who was forced to resign in 1998 after his conviction on an earlier sodomy charge. The Supreme Court later threw out that verdict.

Anwar has denied all the sodomy charges, saying his chief political rival, Prime Minister Najib Razak, concocted them. The prime minister denies the allegation.

Clive Kessler, a longtime analyst of Malaysian politics at the University of New South Wales, says that although the court ruled the evidence in the case unsubstantial, there was enough doubt to blunt Anwar's claims of vindication.

“Its (the evidence) conservation and transmission were not sufficiently intact to be able to convict. Yet at the same time, the same judge had earlier in the trial said that Anwar's accuser and his evidence were entirely believable. So in that sense, the case has in the end had acquitted Anwar but still with a great shadow over him that his adversaries may continue to use.”

The verdict surprised Anwar supporters who feared he would be imprisoned to silence him. More than 5000 supporters outside the court building cheered when the ruling was announced. Anwar is considered to be a leading opposition candidate in this year's general elections. Kessler says the acquittal gives the Malaysian opposition life.

“The doubts hanging over him will still be there. But in a sense, Anwar personally, his supporters and the opposition will get enormous energy, strength and a sense of vindication from this judgment. And it puts them, I think, on a much improved grounding than they were a week or two ago for facing the national elections that are due some time within the next year.”

The verdict was also a vindication, of sorts, for Prime Minister Najib's government, which Anwar has accused of judicial corruption.

A government statement said the acquittal proves Malaysia has an independent judiciary and that the government has no influence over court decisions.

“Malaysia has an independent judiciary and this verdict

proves that the government does not hold sway over judges' decisions,'' the government said in a statement

Meanwhile, police say three blasts were heard in the streets surrounding the court after Anwar was cleared of the charges. Authorities say five people were wounded by the explosions.

Police say the explosive devices were apparently homemade and at least one was placed under a police cone.