09/02/2004, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Anwar Ibrahim set free

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Federal Court Thursday freed former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from prison. The court was reviewing an earlier rejection of Anwar's appeal - but decided to quash the original sodomy conviction and sentence by a vote of 2-1. "He is free to go, there is no doubt about it," said his lawyer Pawancheek Marican when the verdict was announced. He is expected to leave custody later on Thursday.

The decision came six years to the day after his dramatic sacking by Malaysia's then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohammed. Anwar was imprisoned in 1999 and had lost earlier appeal against his conviction. He was charged with corruption after a trial widely seen as politically motivated. It followed his disagreement with Mahathir Mohammad over how to run the country's economy. On Aug 8, 2000 he received a further nine years for sodomy. The High Court convicted Anwar and his adopted brother Sukma of sodomising Anwar's former family driver Azizan Abu Bakar in 1993. Thursday's appeal to Malaysia's Federal Court - the country's highest - was the last legal opening for the former minister.

"We allow the sentence and conviction to be set aside. We find the High Court misdirected itself. He should have been acquitted," said Judge Abdul Hamid Mohamad, head of a three-judge panel.

Anwar's continued imprisonment had posed problems for the government of current Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Although his star has waned since the days when thousands marched in protest at his treatment, many in Malaysia and abroad still regarded him as a political prisoner. He is now expected to travel to Germany to receive treatment for a back injury he says he suffered when arrested. The country's former police chief was responsible for a beating he received when first arrested in September 1998, Anwar says.

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