KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – A court trying Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy heard explicit details from his accuser Wednesday after the Malaysian opposition leader denied the charge that he had illicit sexual relations with a male aide.
At the start of the trial, Anwar claimed the allegation was part of a high-level conspiracy to thwart his political movement that came close to dislodging a government in power for more than five decades.
It is the second time in his political career that the former deputy premier has been charged with sodomy, which in Muslim-majority Malaysia is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
He previously served six years in prison for alleged corruption and sodomy before the sodomy conviction was overturned. A new conviction could would be a huge setback to his opposition alliance, the only significant rival to the long-ruling government coalition.
Anwar, 62, is accused of sodomizing 24-year-old Saiful Bukhari Azlan, his former election worker and aide, on June 26, 2008, at a private condominium. Saiful lodged a police complaint two days later.
Anwar is married with six children. His supporters accuse the government of either planting or fabricating any evidence to frame the political leader and discredit the opposition.
Prosecutors on Wednesday called Saiful as their first witness after promising to unveil explicit and unvarnished details of the alleged act, including semen samples taken from Saiful’s anus that they claimed belonged to Anwar.
A calm-looking Saiful said he went to the condominium to discuss Anwar’s work schedule with him, but Anwar instead used coarse language to ask him whether he wanted to have sex.
“I refused his request. I said I don’t want to. Anwar got angry and asked me why. I said I wasn’t willing to do it,” Saiful said.
Anwar then ordered him to go to the master bedroom, Saiful said. Anwar then drew the curtains and turned the lights off before telling Saiful to go into the bathroom to wash himself, he said.
Saiful said he obeyed and then came out wearing only a towel. Anwar, who was standing by the bed and also wearing a towel, asked Saiful to come over and hugged him, Saiful said.
High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah then agreed to a defense request for the remainder of Saiful’s testimony to be recorded in private without the media or public observers, due to its explicit nature. The hearing was scheduled to continue Thursday.
The long-awaited trial started after Anwar’s lawyers exhausted efforts over the past 18 months to put the proceedings on hold because of unresolved technicalities, including their requests for advance access to the prosecution’s medical evidence in the case.
“It is a malicious accusation, a frivolous charge trumped up by the political masters using the prosecution for this purpose,” Anwar, wearing a dark blue jacket, said from the dock in the court.
Government lawyer Mohamad Yusof Zainal Abiden said the prosecution would “prove beyond reasonable doubt the accused’s guilt through Saiful’s testimony, forensic evidence … as well as circumstantial and documentary evidence.”
Anwar has accused Prime Minister Najib Razak and the government of fabricating the charge to knock out the opposition, which severely eroded the ruling coalition’s grip on power in March 2008 general elections. Najib has denied conspiring against Anwar.
Anwar was previously charged in 1998 and convicted of sodomizing his family driver, but Malaysia’s top court overturned the sodomy conviction in 2004. Anwar, who was deputy prime minister in the 1990s, had maintained his innocence, insisting he was framed to prevent him from challenging then-leader Mahathir Mohamad.
A prison sentence of at least one year would bar Anwar from politics for five years from the date of his release. That would be a huge setback to his three-party People’s Alliance, the only rival to Najib’s National Front coalition, which has been in power since 1957.