Former Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has failed in a last bid to overturn a controversial sodomy conviction. Rights group HRW called the decision to uphold his jail sentence a "tragedy for justice."
Malaysia's highest court on Wednesday rejected the final bid by jailed former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for a review of a 2014 sodomy conviction that he and his supporters say was politically motivated.
The ruling means that Anwar, 69, will now have to serve the remaining 16 months of a five-year prison term.
"This is not the end of the road ... I have pleaded and reiterated my innocence, but the judiciary has ignored my pleas," Anwar told reporters in the court after the verdict.
Anwar and his supporters say that his conviction for sodomizing a male aide was based on charges that were trumped up to sideline him, due to his success in welding a previously divided opposition into a force that achieved historic election gains. The government denies this accusation, insisting that the judicial system in Malaysia is independent and impartial.
The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) called Wednesday's decision by the federal court "a real tragedy for justice in Malaysia."
"This outcome shows that the Malaysian courts were no match for Prime Minister Najib Razak's political vendetta against Anwar," said HRW's Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson.
If the review application had been successful, Anwar was expected to contest the country's next general election in June 2018, with Najib under fire amid allegations that billions of dollars have gone missing from state fund 1MDB, which the prime minister founded.
Anwar, who served as deputy prime minister from 1993 to 1998, was next in line to lead the ruling United Malaysia National Organisation (UMNO) before being removed from his post by then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges that he also said were politically motivated.
Following his release in 2004, he helped unite the Malaysian opposition and make it a force to be reckoned with in national politics.
In 2008, the year Anwar re-entered parliament as opposition leader, one of his aides filed a police report claiming he had been sodomized by Anwar.
A first high court trial in June 2012 found Anwar not guilty, but the court of appeal changed that decision two years later, with Anwar being sentenced to five years in jail in March 2014.
The sentence was upheld by the federal court in February 2015.
tj/msh (dpa, AFP, Reuters)