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Human Rights Watch Monitors Second Anwar Trial

Human Rights Watch today denounced what it called the public vilification of Anwar Ibrahim and said it would be closely observing the second trial of Malaysia's former deputy prime minister.

We thought Anwar's first trial was unfair and the harsh six-year sentence wholly unwarranted," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "With the second trial now underway, we will continue to monitor several elements: the treatment of witnesses and defendants, the independence of the judges, the ability of the defense to prepare adequate responses to the frequently changing charges, and the political atmosphere in which the trial is taking place."

Human Rights Watch welcomed Tuesday's lifting of the gag order, issued by High Court Judge Abdul Wahab Patail on May 4. The order banned lawyers involved in the trial from making any public statements about the case and threatened to bar from the court journalists who published anything but "factual evidence." "Anything that will make this trial more transparent is desirable, but the 'ungagging' of lawyers and journalists obviously does not by itself guarantee a fair trial," Jones said.

Human Rights Watch said that in addition to its overall concerns about the political nature of Anwar's trial, it also believed that Article 377B of the Penal Code, the sodomy law under which Anwar and his adopted brother are being charged, was itself a violation of human rights.

"Quite apart from whether there is any substance to the allegations against Anwar, we believe that so-called 'sodomy laws' violate the right to privacy, promote discrimination. They should be scrapped," Jones said.

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