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Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim to challenge sodomy sentence ahead of elections

Sydney Morning Herald - April 18, 2017

Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok Malaysia's former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has filed a new legal challenge to his five-year jail sentence on sodomy charges that are widely seen as politically-motivated.

Mr Anwar's conviction in Malaysia's highest court in February 2015 barred him from running for office, in a crushing blow to the country's opposition alliance that has since splintered.

The challenge comes after the country's embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak urged supporters of his ruling coalition to take to social media ahead of elections he is likely to call this year.

"We have long been in defensive mode. Enough. It is now time to attack," said Mr Najib, who has shrugged off his alleged involvement in a multibillion dollar corruption scandal.

According to global investigators Mr Najib received more than US$1 billion ($1.3 billion) in his personal bank accounts, much of which came from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which he set up in 2009 and oversaw through an advisory committee. Mr Najib, a close ally of successive Australian governments, denies any wrongdoing.

Human rights groups and many countries, including Australia, described Mr Anwar's conviction as deeply concerning.

His new legal action seeks a civil court ruling to invalidate the conviction and order his immediate release from jail where he is held in isolation. He says he suffers from chronic back pain.

Mr Anwar names the government as the sole defendant in the action, claiming his key accuser at the trial was an untruthful witness and gave false testimony. The action also claims the government fabricated DNA samples to support the prosecution.

"Anwar is an innocent man. We will prove his innocence in court," Mr Anwar's lawyer, N.Surendran told reporters. Mr Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, said the action was filed because "a day spent in jail is cruelty for an innocent man".

Previous attempts by Mr Anwar to prove his innocence in criminal courts have been dismissed, including by the Federal Court in December. His request for a royal pardon was rejected.

In 2015 the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Mr Anwar's imprisonment violated prohibitions on torture, or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. The group called for Mr Anwar's release and for his political rights to be reinstated.

Malaysia's colonial-era law which criminalises consensual sexual acts between people of the same sex has been condemned by the UN and Western countries, including Australia.

Australian barrister Mark Trowell, QC, who was a legal observer at Mr Anwar's trial, said the verdict was "unconvincing and lacked a detailed analysis of the facts".

"In reaching these conclusions the court rejected or ignored evidence that raised serious doubts about the reliability of so-called independent evidence and the credibility of the complainant," Mr Trowell said at the time.

While Mr Anwar has been in jail, Mr Najib has used a slew of draconian laws to crackdown on citizens' rights to freedom of expression and assembly, including harassment, intimidation, arrest and prosecution of Mr Anwar's supporters.

The 1MDB corruption scandal has been described as one of the world's biggest frauds, with investigators in at least five countries, including the US, looking into money laundering and tax haven schemes stretching from Malaysia to Seychelles, the US, Singapore and Australia.

Mr Najib, the British-educated son of a former Malaysian prime minister, has held a firm grip on power as the scandal unfolded. He has the support of powerbrokers in his long-ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation, who have benefited from the party's largesse.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/malaysias-anwar-ibrahim-to-challenge-sodomy-sentence-ahead-of-elections-20170418-gvmoub.html.

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