A former Malaysian deputy prime
minister was convicted of sodomy, a widely expected verdict
that ended Anwar Ibrahim’s two-year battle against what he has
called a political conspiracy against him.
High Court Judge Ariffin Jaka announced his ruling today in a packed courtroom. Lawyers for both sides went immediately into sentencing hearings.
Anwar had predicted a guilty verdict as he was led into the court, but veered between calm acceptance and outrage after the sentence was read.
“You have to be realistic,” Anwar said to reporters while hugging his wife, Azizah Ismail. “Bloody, rotten judiciary!”
Then he shouted, “Sick!” and threw up his hands up in frustration before storming away from the public gallery to consult with his lawyers, who said they would appeal.
Tuesday’s judgment ends a yearlong trial, the second for Anwar since he was fired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998. It has raised concerns about the fairness of Malaysia’s judiciary, the country’s overall human rights record and Mahathir’s determination to continue his 19-year rule, the longest in Asia.
Anwar and his allies have said the prosecution was stage-managed to eliminate his challenge and crush his movement for more liberal politics in the predominantly Muslim Southeast Asian nation.
Judge Ariffin, who had maintained that he would render a verdict based on the facts, not politics, read from a prepared statement and systematically rejected Anwar’s claims of conspiracy.
Ariffin also found Anwar’s codefendant and adopted brother, Sukma Dermawan, guilty and described the testimony of their former family driver and accuser, Azizan Abu Bakar, as unimpeachable.
“I’m satisfied that the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. I therefore find both the accused guilty as per the charge,” Ariffin said.
During the case, Azizan twice changed the dates that he said he had been sodomized and was painted by the defense as an opportunist who lied for money.
About 200 pro-Anwar supporters gathered outside the courthouse. There was no violence, but they were confronted by hundreds of riot police with water cannon on standby.
“I’m shocked,” defense attorney Christopher Fernando said after the verdict. “I’m absolutely flabbergasted. We will definitely appeal.”
Under Malaysian law, sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a whipping by a rattan cane. Convicts older than 50 aren’t beaten.
The guilty verdict could remove Anwar, a high-profile figure on the international stage in the years he was Mahathir’s heir-apparent, from public gaze until his old age and dash his ambitions to someday become prime minister.
Anwar is already serving a six-year prison term for a corruption conviction last year and is barred from politics for a further five years after his release.
The corruption and sodomy allegations were leveled against Anwar shortly after Mahathir abruptly fired him in September 1998, triggering Anwar to call for reform of an entrenched political system that he said was corrupt and beset with cronyism. The two men had increasingly disagreed over how to handle the Asian economic crisis.
The sacking brought some 30,000 people into the normally placid streets of Kuala Lumpur to support Anwar in the biggest displays of public protest in recent memory. Anwar was arrested and was beaten in custody by the chief of the national police, fueling public anger at the government.