Anwar Ibrahim Acquitted of Sodomy Charges

As thousands of supporters cheered outside the court, Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was found not guilty of sodomy charges by High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah, who said “the court cannot be 100 percent certain that DNA was not contaminated.”

Under Malaysia’s system of justice, the prosecution is allowed to appeal a not-guilty verdict. Prior to the ruling, some observers in Kuala Lumpur suggested the government would do just that, which would keep Anwar tied up in legal matters for as long as another year through an expected election. Under a scenario described to Asia Sentinel several weeks ago, the government, knowing a guilty verdict would make Anwar a martyr, would opt to have the judge rule him not guilty and appeal.

“The prosecution has a month to decide whether to appeal,” said a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer. “They have to examine the decision and attempt to discover if they have grounds for an appeal. But this is Malaysian politics. You have to look at the scenario. From a legal and jurisprudential point of view, there were too many inconsistencies to warrant a conviction. But from a political point of view, anything can happen.”

Another source told Asia Sentinel it is uncertain if the prosecution will appeal. "The government may just want to put it behind them," he said.

The case obviously hands Anwar a huge political victory. It in effect became a trap for the government rather than for Anwar, who denounced it as politically motivated. “The government faced an unappetizing choice,” the lawyer said in a telephone interview. “They were damned if they convicted, damned if they didn’t. Only the judge himself knows if he followed his conscience.”

Given the political ramifications of the verdict, it could thus be a problem for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who has been accused by Anwar and others of manufacturing the case in a bid to drive him from politics. To the suspicious, the verdict does not demonstrate the independence of Malaysia’s courts but rather that the government ordered the acquittal by the judge as the lesser of two unappetizing choices. If that is true, Umno figures have to be questioning the prime minister’s strategy, since it has clearly backfired.

"They are in a trap of their own making," said a business executive. "But they may step up their campaign to undermine Anwar in other ways."

Last year, either Anwar or a double was entrapped in a Kuala Lumpur hotel and filmed having sex with a Chinese prostitute. Anwar has denied it was him in the video.

"What they don't get is that their whole strategy was misguided from the get go," the executive continued. " They focused all their might to destroy Anwar, thinking that if they jail him, Pakatan falls apart. What they missed is that this is no longer about one man. There's a mass movement here now, sparked by the 2008 elections. It's beyond Anwar now. It's about how Umno deals with an energized electorate."

"Thank God justice has been served," Anwar told cheering crowds after the verdict, vowing to topple the government in national elections, which are expected to be held this year.

Because of the vast number of questions about the case, international observers almost universally condemned it. Among those inconsistencies were the fact that the complaining witness, Mohamad Saiful Bukhairy Azlan, had gone to two hospitals to complain he had been sodomized but was turned away by doctors who examined him and said they found no evidence of penetration. Also, during testimony in the courtroom, he acknowledged that he had met with then-Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, prior to the filing of the charges.

There were many questions about the DNA, which was allegedly taken from Saiful’s rectum 90 hours after the reported act took place, during which he said he had neither eaten, drunk nor gone to the bathroom. The evidence was stored in an unguarded police office. Government laboratory technicians testified that as many as 11 different DNA traces had been found in Saiful’s rectum.

There were even questions whether Saiful had actually met with Anwar on the date he allegedly was sodomized. Although cameras showed him in the lift of the building where the offence allegedlyt took place, Anwar said he was meeting with a group of economists in the condo at the time and that Saiful had not appeared in the room.

The case began when the then-24-year-old former aide made the charge against the opposition leader on June 29, 2008, shortly after Anwar had led the Pakatan Rakyat coalition to a historic sweep of five Malaysian states, winning 82 parliamentary seats in 2008 national elections and breaking the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition's two-thirds majority hold on parliament for the first time since the country was founded.

Anwar was arrested at his home on July 16 of that year by a contingent of 10 carloads of police commandos and was locked up overnight in a Kuala Lumpur jail. The case has kept Anwar preoccupied for a full two and a half years.

"I'm finally vindicated after the smearing of my character,” Anwar told local media. “I’m thankful to Wan Azizah and the team of lawyers led by Karpal Singh. He also thanked the support of Pakatan Rakyat leaders. "We want to continue on the reform agenda, fighting corruption, and freedom of the press."