Paris, Kuala Lumpur, 27 October 2014
Malaysia’s Federal Court must keep politics out of the courtroom and put an end to more than 15 years of judicial persecution of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, FIDH and its member organization Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) said today.
On 28-29 October, the Federal Court in Putrajaya will hear Anwar’s appeal against a decision by the Court of Appeals which convicted him on charges of sodomy. The Federal Court will also hear an appeal filed by the prosecution to seek a jail sentence harsher than the Court of Appeals’ sentence of five years. Under Article 377 of the Criminal Code, a conviction for sodomy carries a penalty of up to 20 years of imprisonment.
“The Federal Court’s judgment is a decisive test for Malaysia’s judiciary. Politics must be kept out of the courtroom if Malaysia wants to help restore the battered reputation of its justice system,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “It’s imperative that Malaysia respects international standards for fair trials, including the right to be heard by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal.”
On 7 March 2014, the Court of Appeals overturned the High Court’s acquittal of Anwar of charges of sodomy and sentenced him to five years in prison. Anwar was released on 10,000 Ringgit (2,200 Euros) bail pending the outcome of his Federal Court appeal.
Anwar was brought to trial on charges of sodomizing his former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan on 26 June 2008 in Kuala Lumpur. On 9 January 2012, the Kuala Lumpur High Court found Anwar not guilty based on tainted DNA evidence presented by the prosecution. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge erred in finding that DNA samples had been compromised because of a break in the chain of custody.
In an indication of political involvement in the judiciary, the Court of Appeals’ trial was conducted in an unusually hasty manner and the sentencing process was expedited. As a result, Anwar was prevented from running in the by-election for the Selangor State Assembly seat of Kajang. The Kajang by-election, held on 23 March, could have paved the way for Anwar to become Chief Minister of Selangor State, Malaysia’s richest and most populous state.
In a prelude to the 28-29 October hearing, on 14 October, the Federal Court rejected Anwar Ibrahim’s motion that sought to disqualify Muhammad Shafee Abdullah from the prosecution team. The court ruled that Shafee, a lawyer associated with the ruling party United Malays National Organization (UMNO), was a “fit and proper person” to lead the prosecution. Anwar’s defense team had unsuccessfully attempted to disqualify Shafee on two previous occasions.
Anwar’s unsuccessful challenge to Shafee’s presence on the prosecution team followed another disturbing development related to the forthcoming trial. On 19 August, one of Anwar’s lawyers, N. Surendran, was charged with sedition for criticizing the Court of Appeals’ 7 March ruling as “flawed, defensive, and insupportable.”
“Developments leading up to the Federal Court’s hearing do not bode well for the fairness of the proceedings. It’s time for Malaysia’s judiciary to end the political abuse of justice and the flawed prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim,” said SUARAM Executive Director Yap Swee Seng.
The trial of Anwar Ibrahim takes place amid an ongoing crackdown on opposition politicians and government critics. Since May 2013, about 50 people, including MPs, activists, and lawyers have been either charged or investigated under the 1948 Sedition Law. Anwar himself was questioned by police on 26 September 2014 as part of a sedition investigation stemming from a speech he made during a political rally in Gombak, Selangor State, on 25 March 2011. In September, two activists were sentenced to prison terms on sedition charges.
In coordination with FIDH, Mr. Danthong Breen, Senior Advisor to the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL), FIDH member organization in Thailand, will attend the 28-29 October hearing at the Federal Court as an independent observer. Mr. Breen observed the previous appeal hearings on February 12 and March 6-7.