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(New York) - Malaysia's Court of Appeal should grant bail to former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Human Rights Watch said today. After dragging its feet for several months, the court announced Monday that it would rule on Anwar’s bail application today.

In 1999 and 2000, Anwar was convicted of corruption and sodomy in separate trials that fell far short of international standards of due process. Anwar has served a four-year sentence for corruption, and has requested bail pending appeal of his conviction on sodomy charges, for which he was sentenced to nine years. The two sentences are consecutive.

Although Malaysian courts usually grant bail as a matter of course in cases of sodomy, the Court of Appeal had refused for several months to act on the bail application. The judges finally agreed to issue a decision only after an extraordinary intervention in the courtroom from Anwar himself.

"Anwar has already been in jail for more than five years. He has been beaten and denied medical care. He was forced to sit through a trial that made a mockery of justice," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division. "Releasing Anwar would end the injustice he's suffered and signal a renewed spirit of independence for Malaysia's judiciary."

Malaysian courts usually grant bail in the absence of any indication that the accused is a flight risk or a likely repeat offender. As a former deputy prime minister, Anwar is unlikely to fall into either category, a point strenuously pressed by Anwar and his attorneys.

Sukma Darmawan, Anwar's co-accused on the sodomy charge, had his successful bail application overturned by the Court of Appeal in April 2003. He remains in detention, and is also seeking review of his sodomy conviction.

Anwar was sacked from his post as Deputy Prime Minister by then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed in September 1998 after the two fell out over how to respond to the economic crisis then gripping Southeast Asia. After his dismissal, Anwar spoke out openly and critically against the policies and practices of the Malaysian government under United Malay National Organization (UMNO), the country's longtime ruling coalition.

Anwar was arrested under Malaysia's draconian Internal Security Act only three weeks after being dismissed, and was later criminally charged and convicted. Since his conviction, the Malaysian courts have routinely ignored his pleas for bail and medical parole. Anwar began to have severe back pain after being beaten by prison guards while in detention, and has been regularly denied access to medical treatment.

"The Mahathir era is now over. It is time for the courts to free the man who went to jail for criticizing him," Adams said. "Denying Anwar bail yet again continues the courts' complicity in his unjust detention."

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