Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, acquitted of a sodomy charge in January which he said was concocted to destroy his political career, on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to new charges over a protest which could disqualify him from parliament.
A Kuala Lumpur court charged Anwar with violating a public assembly law and for disobeying a court order during an electoral reform rally which ended in chaos after police fired teargas and water cannon into crowds on April 28.
Anwar, 64, faces a fine and possible month in jail if convicted, disqualifying him from parliament or any political office. Appeals by his lawyers would likely drag on beyond the election, which prime minister Najib Razak must call by March 2013.
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, was jailed for six years in 1999 on charges of sodomy and corruption that he said were politically motivated. He was acquitted of another sodomy charge in January.
Speaking to reporters outside the court, Anwar said the new charges were “clearly vindictive” and meant to stop the opposition from campaigning effectively.
“We will fight. We will not shirk our responsibility to focus on the elections,” he said.
The case will be heard on July 2. Analysts said it was unclear how the case would affect Malaysia’s swing voters, who could either see it as harassment or simple law enforcement.
Anwar leads a three-party opposition coalition that is hoping to build on shock election gains in 2008 that cut the long-ruling National Front coalition’s parliamentary majority to below two-thirds for the first time.
Public prosecutors are likely to focus on a video which surfaced after the rally showing Anwar gesturing to his deputy and fellow defendant Azmin Ali shortly before crowds breached a barricade.
Government supporters said the video showed Anwar had encouraged the breach, something both have denied. -By Siva Sithraputhran