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Malaysia's Top Court Upholds Sodomy Conviction Against Opposition Leader

Malaysia's top court upheld a sodomy conviction against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, leading to criticism from human rights groups and to Ibrahim calling the decision a "murder of judicial independence."

Ibrahim, 67, was accused in 2008 of sodomizing his driver — a crime in Malaysia even if it is consensual. The driver, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who was then 23, had said he had participated in the act because he feared Anwar. But in January 2012, Malaysia's High Court acquitted Anwar. The government appealed, and in March 2014, a court sentenced him to five years in prison. Anwar, who has always maintained his innocence, appealed that decision to the Federal Court, which today ruled there was "overwhelming evidence" to support the opposition leader's conviction.

"You have become partners in crime in the murder of judicial independence," Anwar told the judges after the verdict.

He began his five-year sentence today.

"I have to go. Time's up," Anwar told his supporters inside the court. "I will miss you all."

The Associated Press adds:

"The case was widely seen at home and abroad as politically motivated to eliminate any threats to the ruling coalition, whose popularity has slowly been eroding since 2008 after more than five decades of unquestioned dominance. Anwar is the most popular, vocal and visible symbol of the opposition's resurgence and had become a potent political threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak."

Human rights groups criticized the verdict. Amnesty International called it "deplorable ... and just the latest chapter in the Malaysian authorities' relentless attempts to silence government critics." Human Rights Watch called it a "travesty of justice [that] ... will further undermine respect for rights and democracy in Malaysia."

In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the U.S. was "deeply disappointed with Mr. Anwar's conviction."

This is the second sodomy conviction for Ibrahim. He was found guilty in 2000 of sodomy with his wife's driver shortly after being ousted as deputy prime minister. But that decision was overturned in 2004.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.