Anwar Arrest Expected Thursday

Malaysian police today served notice that Anwar Ibrahim will be charged and arrested tomorrow for sodomy, which is punishable by up to 20 years in jail. No bail is allowed for the offense, meaning the opposition leader will likely be jailed until he is tried at some still-undetermined time.

The charges are widely viewed by human rights activists and others as engineered to end Anwar’s attempt to take power after a decade in the political wilderness following his conviction on a similar charge in 1999. That charge was overturned by Malaysia’s courts as flawed after he had spent six years in prison.

The leader of the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat, or People's Alliance, Anwar called a press conference to proclaim his innocence and accused Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other leaders of the United Malays National Organisation of a political conspiracy.

"Tomorrow I will be charged with a crime I did not commit," Anwar said in a statement. "The real criminals will, in their efforts to humiliate me and to derail the people's aspirations for transformational change in Malaysia, hide behind a smokescreen created by the government-controlled mainstream media."

Anwar charged that the attorney general had advised against charging him after studying the results of the investigation.

Saiful Azlan Bukhari, 23, a onetime volunteer in Anwar's office, reported to police on June 28 that Anwar had forcibly sodomized him in an apartment in Kuala Lumpur. Since that time, however, a medical report has surfaced by a physician at Hospital Pusrawi, where Saiful first went to be examined, saying he had found no evidence of tearing or scarring that would indicate forcible rape. The doctor subsequently was questioned by police and has since gone into hiding. The hospital issued a statement saying the report was made after Saiful had complained of an upset stomach, although the report clearly stated the doctor had examined him for evidence of sodomy, found none, and sent him to a government hospital for another examination. ‘

A local political news site, Malaysia Today, also reported on July 30 that Saiful had allegedly met with Senior Assistant Commissioner II Mohd Rodwan Mohd Yusof in a room at the Concorde Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The article, written by the site’s editor Raja Petra Kamarudin, also claimed that "prior to this secret meeting, Rodwan and Saiful spoke on the phone at least eight (8) times."

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has also acknowledged meeting Saiful before the police report was made. Najib said Saiful had gone to see him for advice on scholarship matters. Earlier, the deputy prime minister denied that he had ever met the university dropout.

Anwar announced on July 31 that he would contest a Penang parliamentary seat which is being vacated by his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who also leads the biggest parliamentary opposition party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

The Election Commission announced Wednesday that nomination and polling days for the by election have been set for August 16 and 26 respectively, giving a 10-day campaign period.

In the March 8 general election, the ruling Barisan Nasional, a coalition of three ethnic parties, lost its two-thirds parliamentary majority and control of five states, including two of the most important, Selangor and Penang, which contribute about 30 percent of gross domestic product. Since then, the coalition has been wracked by mass defections at the branch level in Penang and Selangor. Anwar has threatened to take over the federal parliament on September 16 if he wins the by-election, predicting that as many as 30 lawmakers will join the opposition. The Barisan has 141 members of parliament against Pakatan's 80 and one independent.

Opposition leaders expressed disappointment at the threatened arrest.

Lim Kit Siang, the leader of the Democratic Action Party, the Chinese-based party which is part of Pakatan, wrote in his blog: "When news goes out to the nation and the world tomorrow of Anwar’s Sodomy II charge, it will be a sad and black day for Malaysia as it will be a clear and unmistakable signal that Malaysia has not dissociated from its recent dark past, where laws were used to suppress dissent and legitimate political and democratic challenge rather than to build a united, just, progressive and prosperous Malaysia."

Nasharuddin Mat Isa, deputy president of Parti Se-Islam Malaysia, the dominant Malay party in Pakatan, told Asia Sentinel in a phone interview: "It's unfair that there is already a media trial. We should let the rule of law prevail and allow the case to be decided by the courts."

Tian Chua, Keadilan’s information chief, told Asia Sentinel in a phone interview: "It's very clear that this (the sodomy allegation) is being used to jeopardize the coming by-election. So far, I think this law (Section 377) has only been used for Anwar. This law is ridiculous!"

Political analysts contacted by Asia Sentinel questioned the timing of the charge, saying that it will fuel the perception that the government acted to jeopardize the by-election.

"I don't believe (Anwar) has done it,” said Stanley Koh, the former head of research and planning for the Malaysian Chinese Association, the second largest ethnic party in the Barisan. “It's so obvious. You have to look at the sequence of events leading up to the charge. It's like a movie, a serial that from day one made according to some political agenda. But I don't think this would jeopardize the by-election because public perception against the government is at an all time low and nobody believes the charges (according to a survey by the Merdeka Centre)."

"At the first level, public perception may be that the timing seems to be impeccable for UMNO's sake,” said Tricia Yeoh, director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies. “As public perception towards UMNO is at a low level, (the charge) will fuel suspicion that it is coming when the by-election is taking place. At the second level, there is the question of whether the by-election will continue as it is as some are speculating that the actual flow of the nomination process will be affected. In addition, what the public will be seeing is the charge is in reaction to the by-election but it may be the other way around that the by-election may be a reaction the imminent charge."