Anwar Ibrahim's efforts to appeal a sodomy conviction were to no avail. Malaysia's highest court has upheld a five-year sentence against the opposition leader in a case decried by activists as "politically motivated."
The Malaysian Federal Court affirmed the jail sentence on Tuesday, February 10, in a move likely to end Anwar's political career as the conviction not only bans him from politics five years after his release from prison, but also disqualifies the 67-year-old from contesting the next election that must be held by 2018. Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria said there was overwhelming evidence that Saiful Bukhari Azlan, Anwar's former aid, was sodomized.
The politician, who heads a three-party opposition alliance, said in a statement read in court: "I will walk again for the third time into prison but rest assured that I will walk in with my head held high. I maintain my innocence. This to me is a complete fabrication coming from a political conspiracy to stop my political career."
The case against the opposition leader has triggered international condemnation. The UN Human Rights office said it was "disappointed" by the Malaysian Federal Court's ruling: "The bottom line for us is the charge in this case should not be a criminal offence," UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva.
Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific Director, referred in a statement to the ruling as "oppressive," adding it would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country. "This is a deplorable judgment, and just the latest chapter in the Malaysian authorities' relentless attempts to silence government critics," said Bennett, adding that the "sodomy" charges against Anwar have always been politically motivated, and that he should be released immediately.
The rights group also claimed that the "attempts to silence the opposition leader" come amidst a wider crackdown on dissenting voices in Malaysia.
Harsh criticism also came from Human Rights Watch (HRW). Deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said, "Prime Minister Najib Razak's government has persisted in its politically motivated prosecution of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at the expense of democratic freedoms and the rights to non-discrimination and privacy for all Malaysians. Allowing this travesty of justice to stand will further undermine respect for rights and democracy in Malaysia."
Anwar had presented his appeal case to the Federal Court, the highest Malaysian judicial authority, back in October last year after being sentenced to five years in prison in March on charges of sodomizing a male aide back in 2008. The 67-year-old politician had initially been cleared of the charge in 2012, but the acquittal was controversially reversed by an appeals court.
Malaysia's "sodomy" law - article 377 - makes it a criminal offense to commit "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." The law - which dates back to the British colonial rule - effectively criminalizes same-sex sexuality, and does not distinguish between consensual and non-consensual sex, contrary to international human rights standards.
This is the fourth time Anwar has been charged under section 377, an article which has been invoked only seven times since 1938, according to research by the Women's Candidacy Initiative. In 1998, after calling for political reform, Anwar, who was then deputy prime minister, was dismissed and arrested for corruption and committing "illegal" homosexual acts. At the time, his arrest led to mass demonstrations against the country's ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional.