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(New York) – On January 9, 2012, a Kuala Lumpur court acquitted Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of consensual sodomy.

“Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted on a charge that should have never been brought in the first place,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Hopefully the verdict sends a message to the Malaysian government to put this matter to rest.”

Anwar had been charged with having consensual sexual relations with Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azland, a former volunteer aide to Anwar, on June 26, 2008. Saiful originally filed a complaint of forcible sodomy, but the police determined that the 60-year-old Anwar, plagued with back problems, could not have sexually assaulted the healthy 23-year-old Saiful. The criminal trial began in February 2010.

High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah said his decision was based on concerns that DNA evidence brought by the prosecution was tainted.

“The court at this stage could not with 100 percent certainty exclude the possibility that the [DNA] sample is not compromised,” Judge Zabidin told the courtroom. “Therefore it is not safe to rely on the [DNA] sample. There is no evidence to corroborate [the charge].”

The case against Anwar was politically motivated and plagued with irregularities, Human Rights Watch said.  During the trial, the prosecution refused to turn over key evidence as required by the Malaysian criminal procedure code, including its witness list and witness statements, notes by the doctors who examined Saiful at Kuala Lumpur Hospital, pharmacists’ worksheets and notes on DNA testing and analysis, and closed-circuit television recordings from the condominium guardhouse where the alleged sodomy took place. The Kuala Lumpur hospital report, authorized by three doctors, found “no conclusive clinical findings suggestive of penetration to the anus.”

Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for Malaysia to revoke its colonial-era law criminalizing consensual same-sex relations.

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and finance minister, is credited with forming the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) coalition. This is the second time Anwar has been charged with sodomy. He was convicted of corruption in 1999 and of “sodomy” the following year, and sentenced to six- and nine-year terms to be served consecutively. After his “sodomy” conviction was overturned in 2004, he was released from prison having already served his corruption sentence.


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