Malaysia’s Federal Court, the highest in the country, ruled unanimously on February 10 to uphold an appeals court’s 2014 decision to convict opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy and sentence him to five years in prison, effective immediately.
Anwar believes the conviction was politically motivated. The Barisan Nasional party has ruled the country ever since it gained its independence from England in 1957, but as the founder and leading figure of the People’s Justice Party, Anwar is the head of the greatest threat Malaysia’s political establishment has seen in over half a century.
“I maintain my innocence. This to me is a fabrication coming from a political conspiracy to stop my political career,” he said, according to the Guardian.
He addressed the five judges directly after their decision, calling them “partners in crime in the murder of judicial independence.”
Malaysian Member of Parliament Gooi Hsiao Leung, who is a member of the People’s Justice Party, agreed: “There were so many holes and inconsistencies and doubts from the very beginning of this case.”
International political leaders have decried the ruling. South Australian senator Nick Xenophon called for Australia and the fifty-two other Commonwealth nations to impose sanctions on Malaysia, and England’s Minister for Asia, Hugo Swire, said the case “raises worrying questions about the independence of the judiciary and rule of law,” according to The Globe & Mail. The US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur issued a statement echoing Swire’s sentiments
University of Chicago political science professor Dan Slater, an expert on Southeast Asian politics, also spoke out against Anwar’s conviction. “It’s an absolute travesty,” he told the Globe & Mail. “When a government appeals an acquittal like this, it becomes nothing better than a witch-hunt. Nobody can possibly still believe that the Najib regime is committed to democratic reform in any way.”
Sodomy is a criminal offense in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where Anwar was charged with it in 2008. He was acquitted in 2012, but an appeals court reversed the ruling and imposed the five-year sentence. Despite the setback, Anwar still has not given up: after his conviction was upheld, he said in court, “Allah be my witness. I pledge that I will not be silenced. I will fight on for freedom and justice. I will never surrender.”