Malaysia’s Anwar Faces Sodomy Verdict Next Week

Malaysia’s highest court is expected next week to finally deliver a long-delayed verdict on whether opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was guilty of sodomy in a 2008 case brought by a former aide.

The appeal of the appellate court’s guilty verdict was heard at the end of October in the Federal Court after nine days of arguments. The top tribunal was expected to deliver its verdict at that time but for inexplicable reasons it has been delayed for more than three months. The date for the verdict now is February 10.

In Malaysia’s courts, political cases are rarely if ever decided on their merits. That has been glaringly true of the charges against Anwar. The case has been marred by a long series of procedural errors and a list of suspicious events and rulings. As with a previous sodomy case brought in 1998, the charges against Anwar have been condemned by human rights groups and governments across the world.

Anwar was ordered freed by a high court in Kuala Lumpur in 2011, only to be convicted on appeal in the appellate court in 2013. If he is now convicted in the Federal Court, it would effectively finish his political career at the age of 67. He faces several years in prison and Malaysian electoral law prohibits those convicted of crimes from running for five years after being freed.

A conviction would also throw into doubt the survival of the three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition, which is held together by little more than Anwar’s leadership and a desire to unseat the ruling coalition by three vastly dissimilar parties – the Chinese socialist Democratic Action Party, the fundamentalist Islamic Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, and Anwar’s own Parti Keadilan Rakyat, mostly made up of moderate urban ethnic Malays. The parties have been squabbling for months over a variety of issues.

Friends, enemies and in-between

Given the verdict delay, Malaysia’s political tea-leaf readers are trying to figure out what has been going on. It is widely assumed that the top court will take its cues from the leadership of the United Malays National Organization and Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak. It had been assumed that UMNO wanted the Anwar jailed to eliminate a dangerous political rival. That may not be true any longer, given the complex political drama being played out within UMNO.

The case now has been further muddied by events outside the courtroom, in which former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – Anwar’s one-time boss – is seeking to bring down Najib.

“More than Najib, the one person who really wants to see Anwar in jail is Mahathir, and Mahathir has been on the offensive against Najib,” said John Malott, a former US ambassador to Malaysia and a severe critic of the government. “So if ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, it is in Najib's interest to keep Anwar free to continue to be Mahathir's nemesis. Mahathir's hatred of Anwar is almost pathological at this point. Anwar said he is willing to submit evidence to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission against Mahathir's dearly beloved crony number #1, the former finance minister, Daim Zainuddin. The next general election is a few years down the road, but Mahathir's threat to Najib is real and now. From a legal point of view, it is obvious that Anwar is not guilty.

“And from a political point of view, on balance, it is in Najib's interest to keep Anwar out of jail, so he can continue to keep Mahathir off-balance, and in doing so keep himself in power.”

Court shenanigans

Another question involves Sri Ram Gopal, who acted as Anwar’s lawyer before the Federal Court. The prosecutors and the government are said to have been shocked not just by the effectiveness of Sri Ram's defense, but because it was presented by Sri Ram, who was still a member of the bench at the time of the Appeals Court decision reversing Anwar’s not guilty verdict. A well-informed source told Asia Sentinel that the appellate decision had been written ahead of time, before the hearing was even held.

Anwar, a charismatic speaker, has made the opposition coalition into a strong force in Malaysian politics, winning the popular vote in the 2013 general election although the coalition was kept from taking power via gerrymandered districts and the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

What is called Sodomy II was brought by the former aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhairy Azlan, in the wake of a strong showing by the opposition coalition in the 2008 general election, which cost the ruling national coalition its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time since independence.

Court testimony proved that Saiful had consulted with Najib, who was then defense minister, as well as Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor and others, prior to bringing the charges. Two hospitals said they had found no evidence of scarring or tearing that would have indicated sexual activity. More than two days went by before Saiful was even examined. Saiful first charged he was raped, but then the prosecution changed the plea to consensual sex of an unnatural nature, a charge brought only seven times in Malaysia’s history. There were also many problems with DNA supposedly taken from the defendant, causing the trial judge to say the evidence was hopelessly tainted.

Saiful also acknowledged meeting secretly twice with Rodwan Mohd Yusof, a senior assistant police commissioner, before the alleged offense took place. Rodwan became famous, or infamous, in Anwar's 1998 Sodomy I trial when he was proven to have illegally removed Anwar's DNA samples from forensic custody and planted them on a mattress allegedly used by Anwar for a homosexual dalliance. To protect the integrity of the prosecution's case, the presiding judge, Augustine Paul, was forced to expunge the entire DNA evidence.