The Federal Court in Putrajaya upheld the Court of Appeals’ conviction of Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy and sentenced him to five years in prison. The Court issued the verdict more than three months after an eight-day hearing that had concluded on 7 November 2014.
“The Federal Court’s verdict is the disgraceful conclusion of a relentless judicial campaign against Anwar Ibrahim. Malaysia’s judiciary failed to demonstrate its independence from the executive branch in a trial that had clear political motivations,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.
“It is certainly a black day for Malaysia’s judiciary. Anwar Ibrahim was convicted despite the prosecution’s failure to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The verdict will further tarnish the credibility of Malaysia’s justice system and the country’s international image,” said SUARAM Acting Executive Director Arumugam K.
Anwar was brought to trial on charges of sodomizing his former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan on 26 June 2008 in Kuala Lumpur. On 9 January 2012, the Kuala Lumpur High Court found Anwar not guilty based on tainted DNA evidence presented by the prosecution. On 7 March 2014, the Court of Appeals reversed the High Court’s acquittal of Anwar and sentenced him to five years in prison. The Court of Appeals ruled that the trial judge erred in finding that DNA samples had been compromised because of a break in the chain of custody. Anwar was released on 10,000 Ringgit (2,200 Euros) bail pending the outcome of his Federal Court appeal. Under Article 377 of the Criminal Code, a conviction for sodomy carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
During the Federal Court hearing in October-November 2014, Anwar’s legal team made numerous submissions that sought to demonstrate that the Court of Appeals had failed to adequately consider crucial aspects of the alleged crime and the related investigation. In particular, Anwar’s lawyers questioned the credibility of Saiful’s accusations. They also questioned the validity of DNA evidence collected against Anwar. They argued that investigators had illegally obtained Anwar’s DNA and had failed to establish a link between Anwar’s DNA and the DNA samples collected from Saiful. Anwar’s lawyers also questioned the integrity of the DNA samples, which they claimed were contaminated and collected without preserving the chain of custody.
“The trial examined some very complex issues, with both the defense and prosecution taking several hours to examine particular aspects. The prosecutor persistently attempted to refute defense evidence but Anwar’s legal team was able to raise reasonable doubts over the legitimacy of the charges, which should have provided sufficient ground for their dismissal,” said Danthong Breen, Senior Advisor to the Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) FIDH member organization in Thailand, who attended the Federal Court hearings as an independent observer and was present in court for the reading of the verdict today. Mr. Breen also observed the previous appeal hearings on 12 February and 6-7 March 2014.
In a prelude to the October-November 2014 hearing, on 14 October, the Federal Court had rejected Anwar Ibrahim’s motion to disqualify Muhammad Shafee Abdullah from the prosecution team. The court ruled that Shafee, a lawyer associated with the ruling party United Malays National Organization (UMNO), was a “fit and proper person” to lead the prosecution. Anwar’s defense team had unsuccessfully attempted to disqualify Shafee on two previous occasions. Anwar’s unsuccessful challenge to Shafee’s presence on the prosecution team followed another disturbing development. On 19 August 2014, one of Anwar’s lawyers, N. Surendran, was charged with sedition for criticizing the Court of Appeals’ 7 March ruling as “flawed, defensive, and insupportable.” Both events clearly exposed the politically-charged environment in which the trial took place.
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