Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was expected to take the stand Monday to defend himself against sodomy charges that the one-time premier-in-waiting has blasted as a political frame-up.
The defence team was scheduled to finally begin presenting its case in the marathon three-year trial, the latest court action against the former deputy prime minister whose legal battles have dominated Malaysian politics for years.
Anwar, who turns 64 on Wednesday, is accused of sodomising a young male aide in June 2008 and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
But Anwar, once heir-apparent to former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad until a spectacular 1998 falling-out, has dismissed the charges as bogus.
He said the ruling coalition now headed by prime minister Najib Razak and which has governed Malaysia for half a century concocted the case to stall an opposition revival led by him.
“That is the intention of Najib. That is from the very beginning. They want to put me in jail,” Anwar told AFP recently.
The government has denied any involvement in the case.
Anwar’s lawyer Sankara Nair told AFP his client will be the first among several witnesses that the defence intends to call in the trial.
Malaysia was once one of Asia’s most politically stable countries under Mahathir, who had groomed Anwar to take the helm of the economically vibrant, multi-cultural nation.
But a bitter split over how to respond to the 1997 Asian currency crisis led to Anwar’s arrest the following year – and later conviction – on separate sodomy and corruption charges widely seen as politically motivated.
Anwar was freed in 2004 after that sodomy conviction was overturned and he sparked a resurgence by the political opposition, which achieved historic gains against the ruling Barisan Nasional in 2008 general elections.
But the new sodomy allegations also emerged that year, with Anwar’s team saying they are aimed purely at damaging opposition chances in new elections expected to be called early next year.
Anwar says he is not receiving a fair trial, citing judge Zabidin Mohamed Diah’s ruling in May, after the prosecution rested its case, that Anwar’s accuser Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan was “credible”.
The defendant’s lawyers said that amounted to a prejudgement of guilt.
Anwar has sought – and failed – to have the judge allow his defence team to interview at least 15 key witnesses before he takes the stand.
They include prime minister Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor. Saiful has said he met with Najib before filing a police report on the sodomy accusation, which Anwar’s defence team says indicates the case was manufactured.
Anwar’s expected testimony comes a month after police used tear gas and water cannon to put down a demonstration calling for electoral reform, the biggest anti-government protest in years. -By Ted Aljibe