Malaysia risks international isolation over Anwar sentence

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The Independent Online

The Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to nine years in prison yesterday for sodomy, in a politically tinged verdict that prompted widespread international outrage.

The Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to nine years in prison yesterday for sodomy, in a politically tinged verdict that prompted widespread international outrage.

Twelve people were arrested when police broke up a demonstration of several hundred opposition activists who had gathered outside the Kuala Lumpur High Court in anticipation of the guilty verdict.

"Thank you, my Lord," Mr Anwar told the judge bitterly after he was sentenced. "You have performed according to the script that has been laid out before you ... There has been no criminal trial in this court, only political prosecution."

His lawyers said immediately that they would appeal. Malaysian opposition leaders, international human rights organisations and the governments of Australia and New Zealand expressed misgivings at the verdict, which will eliminate the 52-year-old from politics until 2014 at the earliest.

Mr Anwar told the court at the end of his 14-month trial: "I have steadfastly maintained that I am the victim of a political conspiracy, through a web of intrigue, orchestrated by the maestro Dr Mahathir. The pronouncement of your judgment was a mere formality, according to the pre-ordained script of the conspirators."

Ever since his arrest soon after a massive political rally two years ago, he has insisted he is the victim of a plot by his former friend, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad. For 17 years, Mr Anwar was a loyal member of Dr Mahathir's United Malays National Organisation, rising to become deputy prime minister.In September 1998, he was suddenly sacked by Dr Mahathir amid signs that he was planning a challenge to the leadership.

Three weeks later he was arrested, later to be charged with corruption and sodomy. He was convicted of the first in April last year, and given a six-year prison term. Yesterday's sentence will be served consecutively, assuring that - even allowing time off for good behaviour - he will not be released before 2009, and will not be eligible to stand for elected office for five years after that.

Both his trials have been marked by sensational revelations, bitter legal argument, and moments of near farce. He emerged for one of his early court appearances with a black eye after being beaten up in custody while blindfolded. His assailant was Rahim Noor, the chief of the Malaysian police. At another hearing in his corruption trial, a senior policeman admitted he would lie under oath if ordered to do so.

Yesterday's conviction related to sodomy allegedly performed by Mr Anwar on his wife's driver, Azizan Abu Bakar. The prosecution twice changed the date of the alleged crime, after the defence informed the court that the apartment building where it was supposed to have been committed was under construction at the time specified in the charges. Mr Anwar's adopted brother, Sukma Darmawan, also convicted of sodomy yesterday, claimed that he had been intimidated into confessing and that he was promised a lenient sentence if he testified against the opposition leader.

New Zealand's Foreign Minister, Phil Goff, said: "There is deep concern about the fairness of the processes." His Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, said he was "saddened" by the verdict.

Joe Saunders, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: "The verdicts are another blow to justice in Malaysia.If you're out of favour with the political leadership - no matter how high you rise in the government - you have very little protection."

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