Malaysia’s highest court yesterday rejected an appeal by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim against a sodomy conviction, sending the politician who poses the greatest threat to the long-ruling coalition back to prison for five years.
The UN Human Rights office and Australia said they were disappointed by the ruling. Human Rights Watch condemned it as persecution and Amnesty International said it would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
Anwar, the ruling party’s rising star in the mid-1990s before he fell out with then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, denied the charge that led to his second conviction for sodomy as a fabrication aimed at ending his political career.
“I will walk again for the third time into prison but rest assured that I will walk in with my head held high,” he said in a statement he read out in court. “I maintain my innocence.”
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government has rejected any suggestion of interference in the case.
Anwar, 67, criticised the court, saying that in rejecting his appeal it was “bowing to the dictates of the political masters”.
He later comforted his wife and children before being taken to the Sungai Buloh Prison, about 30km from Kuala Lumpur.
A court found the former deputy prime minister guilty in March last year of sodomising a former political aide. The conviction disqualifies him from political office and contesting the next election, which must be held by 2018.
Anwar is head of an opposition alliance that made stunning gains in a 2013 general election.