Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim cleared of sex charge

 

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted by the country's High Court today of a sex offence against a former aide, citing unreliable DNA evidence.

The verdict surprised supporters who saw the case as an attempt to sideline him.

Mr Anwar has long maintained that prime minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition concocted the sodomy charge to damage his chances of leading the opposition to an election victory.

Mr Najib, who is expected to call for national elections some time this year, denies plotting against Mr Anwar.

His administration said the judgment showed that Malaysia's legal system was free from government interference, despite claims to the contrary by opposition activists.

The case rested mainly on evidence by Mr Anwar's 26-year-old accuser, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, and semen samples found on Mr Saiful's body that investigators said matched Mr Anwar's DNA.

But High Court judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah said his decision was founded on concerns that the DNA evidence was tainted.

"The court at this stage could not with 100% certainty exclude the possibility that the (DNA) sample is not compromised," he told the court. "Therefore it is not safe to rely on the (DNA) sample. There is no evidence to corroborate" the charge.

A crowd of Mr Anwar's supporters shouted "Allahu Akbar", or "God is great", after the judge finished reading the verdict. Members of his family burst into tears and hugged him.

"Thank God justice has prevailed," a jubilant Mr Anwar told reporters. "I have been vindicated. To be honest, I am a little surprised."

Mr Anwar, whom the opposition regards as its future prime minister if it wins federal power, had earlier said he was braced for a conviction, which could result in a maximum of 20 years in prison.

The verdict is expected to have a major impact on general elections that most politicians believe will be held some time this year. Mr Anwar is the opposition's most charismatic politician and is considered the figure who can best hold the three ideologically distinct parties in his alliance together.

Information minister Rais Yatim said the acquittal "proves that the government does not hold sway over judges' decisions".

"Malaysia has an independent judiciary," he said. "The current wave of bold democratic reforms introduced by (Mr Najib) will help extend this transparency to all areas of Malaysian life."

At least 5,000 opposition supporters gathered outside the court in Kuala Lumpur, chanting "Long live the people". Some carried banners that read "Free Anwar" and "Reject slander".

A police helicopter flew over the court, while riot police backed by a truck mounted with a water cannon monitored the crowd amid concerns that a conviction might spark unrest in Malaysia's largest city.

Defence lawyers had insisted Mr Saiful's testimony about the alleged sodomy at a Kuala Lumpur condominium in 2008 was riddled with inconsistencies and that the DNA evidence was mishandled by investigators.

Mr Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and married father of six, was jailed in another sodomy case in 2000 when he was convicted of sodomising his family's ex-driver. He denied the allegation and Malaysia's top court released him in 2004 by overturning his conviction and nine-year sentence.

Judge Mohamad Zabidin said that without DNA evidence, Mr Saiful's word was insufficient to convict Mr Anwar.

"The court is always reluctant to convict on sexual offences without corroborate evidence," he said in an unexpectedly brief two-minute judgment. "Therefore, the accused is acquitted and discharged."

The charge emerged several months after Mr Anwar's alliance made major inroads in 2008 general elections, when the National Front ruling coalition endured its worst polling setback in more than five decades of governance.

The opposition now controls slightly more than one-third of parliament's seats and hopes to win power by pledging to reduce problems such as corruption, racial discrimination and curbs on civil liberties. Mr Najib has increased efforts in recent months to tackle those grievances and regain the support of voters who deserted the National Front in the last elections.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?