Malaysian deputy PM jailed for sodomy

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The Independent Online

Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison, the culmination of his two-year battle against what he has called a political conspiracy against him.

Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to nine years in prison, the culmination of his two-year battle against what he has called a political conspiracy against him.

Before sentencing, Anwar, 52, accused his one-time mentor, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, of using the judiciary to destroy him and vowed to keep fighting for democracy from behind prison walls.

The nine-year sentence will begin after Anwar finishes six years for a corruption conviction handed down in 1999, removing him from the Malaysian political scene that he once seemed destined to lead.

Judge Ariffin Jaka could have imposed a maximum sentence of 20 years for the sodomy conviction, but his verdict was still more harsh than the six years Anwar had predicted.

"These are despicable acts in our society," Ariffin said. "This order of offense should meet with utmost condemnation. People who commit such an offense should be dealt with properly."

Anwar's last words to the judge were: "See you in 2014."

Anwar's wife, Azizah Ismail, who led a political party carrying his banner of reform in elections last year, lost her composure and their two daughters wept.

"An appeal will be filed in 14 days," Azizah told reporters in a shaky voice.

The sentence came two hours after Ariffin found Anwar guilty in the yearlong trial. Anwar had anticipated the verdict as he was led into court, but veered between acceptance and outrage after it was read.

"You have to be realistic," Anwar said. "Bloody, rotten judiciary!" But he added, "I can't blame him. He's just following orders."

Then he shouted, "Sick!" and threw up his hands up in frustration.

The trial was Anwar's second since he was sacked in 1998 and has raised concerns about Malaysia's human rights record and Mahathir's iron determination to extend his 19-year rule, the longest in Asia.

Before he was sentenced, Anwar said that Mahathir had used his dominance of Malaysian politics to crush all dissent.

"He is a coward who will not seek responsibility for his own evil, so he used the court," Anwar declared. "Dr. Mahathir's lust for power is insatiable. He will lie and force others to lie."

Anwar then quoted verses from the Koran and about 40 of his supporters chanted, "Allah Akbar," or "God is Great."

The defendant and judge accused each other of being "sick" and Ariffin snapped: "You don't seem to understand what this is about. There is no point blaming everybody now."

Ariffin, who had maintained that he would render a verdict based on the facts, not politics, rejected Anwar's claims of conspiracy and found Anwar's co-defendant and adopted brother, Sukma Dermawan, guilty.

The judge described the testimony of their former family driver and accuser, Azizan Abu Bakar, as unimpeachable. During the case, Azizan had twice changed the years that he said he had been sodomized, finally settling on one occasion in 1993.

"I'm satisfied that the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt," Ariffin said. "There is no necessity for Azizan to lie. He has nothing to gain, but everything to lose. There were some discrepancies, but they were explained."

About 200 pro-Anwar supporters gathered outside the courthouse. There was no violence, but they were confronted by hundreds of riot police with water cannons on standby. At least two people were arrested, including Tian Chua, a deputy leader of the National Justice Party led by Anwar's wife.

Anwar was a high-profile figure on the international stage in the years he was Mahathir's heir-apparent, but was sacked after the two men increasingly disagreed how to handle the Asian economic crisis.

Anwar then called for reform of a political system he said was corrupt and beset with cronyism, bringing some 30,000 supporters into the normally placid streets of Kuala Lumpur in the biggest protests in recent memory.

The criminal charges soon followed. Anwar was arrested and beaten in custody by the chief of the national police, fueling public anger at the government.

At the time, Mahathir called Anwar a sexual deviant unfit to hold office. A guilty verdict in the sodomy case was seen as a necessary legal endorsement for the prime minister's actions.

Anwar and his allies have said the prosecution was stage-managed to eliminate his challenge to Mahathir and crush his drive for more liberal politics in the predominantly Muslim Southeast Asian nation.

Opposition activists have said a guilty verdict would not vindicate Mahathir but merely highlight his ruthlessness.

Rustam Sani, leader of the opposition People's Party of Malaysia, said the case was judged by a "kangaroo court."

"The injustice is becoming clearer and clearer," Rustam said. "The whole struggle now has to go beyond Anwar."

The opposition made inroads against Mahathir's ruling coalition in elections last year, but failed to dislodge it. The biggest gains came from an Islamic fundamentalist party.