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US concern as Malaysia overturns Anwar sodomy acquittal

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at the court of appeals in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur on March 7, 2014
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at the court of appeals in Putrajaya, outside Kuala Lumpur on March 7, 2014

The United States on Friday voiced concern over what it says are politically motivated charges brought against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, urging Malaysia to ensure fairness and transparency.

In a long-running case which stretches back to the late 1990s, the Malaysian Court of Appeals Friday overturned Anwar's acquittal on sodomy laws and sentenced him to five years in jail. He was freed pending appeal.

"The decision to prosecute Mr. Anwar, and his trial, have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the court," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

"In this high-profile case, it is critical for Malaysia to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia's democracy and judiciary."

She also raised the case of the conviction of opposition figure Karpal Singh, who was found guilty of sedition even though Kuala Lumpur had vowed to abolish the law.

The outspoken, wheelchair-bound 73-year-old parliamentarian faces up to three years in prison.

Friday's ruling against Anwar, 66, overturns his 2012 acquittal on charges he sodomized a male former aide -- in a case which has dragged on since 1998 and cut short his promising career during a bitter power struggle with his rival then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar's case was loudly condemned at the time as politically motivated, and when asked whether this was still the US stand, Psaki replied "It is."

Sodomy remains illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by up to 20 years in jail.