02/10/2015, 00.00
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Kuala Lumpur, sodomy charges upheld against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim

Appeal filed by the politician rejected. At first instance judges had imposed a sentence of five years. A political and judicial case spanning 17 years, against the only man able to counter the government hegemony. Activists speak of "political persecution", the executive spokesman says it was a "fair trial".

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Malaysian court has upheld the conviction for sodomy against the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, denying the motion to appeal the verdict of first instance and casting new doubt on his political career.

The Federal Court rejected the request for review of the previous ruling of March last year, which found him guilty of having engaged in sexual acts with a young aide, Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, sentencing him to five years in prison. Sodomy is illegal in the Asian Muslim majority country, although so far few people have been indicted (and punished) for this offense.

Anwar Ibrahim's political and judicial history is characterized by an intricate story of accusations and imprisonment, which has lasted for over 17 years; the 67 year old Malaysian leader has always strongly rejected the charges, labeling them as gimmicks by the government to remove him from the political scene. He had been sentenced in March, with a ruling that overturned a previous acquittal. The government had opposed the ruling opening a new trial which resulted in a five year  prison term, confirmed today.

Anwar Ibrahim was deputy prime minister until 1998, when he had to leave following allegations of corruption and sodomy, illegal in Malaysia even between consenting adults. Imprisoned in conjunction with the Asian financial crisis of the millennium, he spent six years in prison.

Released in 2004, the opposition leader returned to active politics and the 2008 won elections thanks to his popularity among the electorate, especially among Malaysians of Chinese and Indian origin. He, in fact, despite having a history as an Islamic fundamentalist, has supported the struggle of Catholics on the use of the word "Allah" and promotes a campaign - opposed to the government - which unites the Malay majority with the ethnic and religious minorities.

Analysts and local political experts explain that Anwar leads a coalition of three parties and is the only man able to counter the hegemony of the political leadership in Kuala Lumpur. The Barisan Nasional has been in command since 1957, but in the last elections in May 2013 got the worst result in its history.

The chief judge Arifin Zakat spoke of "overwhelming evidence" against Anwar Ibrahim and confirmed five years in prison. Hundreds of supporters outside the court protested loudly at the reading of the judgment.

Activists and human rights movements, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Prime Minister Najib Razak and the government of perpetrating a "political persecution" in regard to Anwar; a government spokesman responded saying it had been a "fair trial", at the end of an "objective and balanced" evaluation of the evidence.



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