The Malaysian government has been accused of using its colonial–era “sodomy” law to target the head of the opposition.
The authorities have refused to accept MP Anwar Ibrahim’s acquittal on sodomy charges and have appealed the verdict.
On Wednesday, Ibrahim appeared in the Court of Appeal in Kuala Lumpur to again fend off claims that he had consensual sexual relations with his political aide Mohammed Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
Critics say that the charges, originally laid in 2008, are politically motivated.
“Malaysian authorities are only adding insult to injury by appealing Anwar’s acquittal, compounding the injustice already inflicted on Anwar and his family,” said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, who called for the charges to be dropped.
He added that: “The best way to ensure this kind of politically motivated persecution doesn’t happen again is for the government to abolish the hateful law on which it’s based.”
Should Anwar lose the appeal, he faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years, and whipping. Anwar would also have to relinquish his parliamentary seat and be barred from standing for election for five years if he is imprisoned for even one day or fined more than RM 2000 (US$600).
“Anwar never should have been charged in the first place because consensual sexual relations between adults should never be criminalized,” Robertson said. “Malaysia should fulfill its obligations as a member of the Human Rights Council and bring its rights practices into compliance with international standards.”
On January 9, the Malaysian High Court acquitted Anwar on the sodomy charges after it found that DNA evidence had not been handled properly and could have been tampered with.
Human Rights Watch also claims that the case was marred by procedural problems that raised serious fair trial concerns. Government leaders also regularly made public comments on the trial and the prosecution made obvious procedural breaches, such as leaking information from an on camera fact-finding visit by the court.