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Human rights cases

Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia

Anwar Ibrahim has been convicted twice under rarely used legislation. ©Reuters

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has faced a long battle in the country’s courts over allegations of sodomy and corruption. The death of his defence lawyer and fellow MP Karpal Singh only a month after another court defeat heightened concerns about the impact on the opposition.

Anwar Ibrahim has spent years battling legal charges and detention which he and many supporters see as politically motivated. 

For five years in the 1990s he was the country’s deputy prime minister, before falling from favour and finding himself at the centre of a series of court cases involving allegations of corruption and sodomy. 

First detained in 1998, he was not freed from jail until 2004, when his convictions were overturned. Anwar emerged to develop a new and powerful role as an opposition leader.

But in 2008 he was again charged with sodomy. After a lengthy court battle, he was cleared in 2012 and the following year led the opposition to its strongest challenge yet to the governing coalition, which has been in power for decades.

Then in 2014 the court battles were resumed. Anwar Ibrahim's previous acquittal from two years earlier was overturned and a five-year jail term handed down. He was allowed to remain free while he appealed, but the ruling stopped him standing in a key by-election.

IPU, which has repeatedly expressed concern at the series of charges brought against Anwar Ibrahim, said it was deeply worried at the rushed nature of the final hearings. It is also concerned that the main arguments presented by the defence—including questioning the integrity of the DNA evidence used—were dismissed with apparent ease.  

IPU has also highlighted the fact that he was convicted for a second time under legislation which is rarely invoked in the country.

It had separately expressed concern at the treatment of his defence lawyer and opposition MP Karpal Singh. Days after Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction in March 2014, Karpal Singh was himself convicted of an unrelated charge of sedition. A month later he died in a car accident.

IPU had previously expressed genuine concern that both the leading opposition figures in Malaysia could be banned from political life. With the death of Karpal Singh and the current conviction standing against Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition has been dealt two major setbacks.