PUTRAJAYA // Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim alleged a “political conspiracy” as he was sent to jail on Tuesday after his appeal against a sodomy conviction was overturned.
Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria dismissed Anwar’s challenge against last year’s conviction for sodomising a young male former aide, saying the court found “overwhelming evidence” of the crime.
The move will likely spell the end of the former deputy premier’s political career.
Sodomy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
Mr Arifin read his judgements out to a stunned courtroom packed with journalists, opposition figures, and Anwar’s family and supporters, many of whom wept quietly.
Anwar later took to the dock to launch a scathing attack on the Federal Court panel of justices, accusing them of collusion in a “political conspiracy” by Malaysia’s now 58-year-old ruling regime.
“In bowing to the dictates of your political masters, you have become partners to the crime,” he said.
“You have chosen to be on the dark side.”
“I will not be silenced! I will never surrender!” Anwar shouted at the judges as they abruptly got up to leave.
Government critics say the case is part of a long-running campaign to destroy Anwar, a former deputy premier who was ousted from the ruling party in the late 1990s and later helped unite a previously divided and hapless opposition into a formidable force.
“It’s a day of infamy. It’s a shocking decision,” senior opposition parliamentarian Lim Kit Siang said.
The ruling is a heavy blow to both Anwar and the opposition.
Now 67, Anwar might not emerge from prison until the age of 72 if he serves the full term. He is also stripped of his parliament seat and disqualified from running in the next elections, due by 2018.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has previously admitted meeting Anwar’s accuser, Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, in 2008 just before the charges were filed, but he denies orchestrating the case.
A statement by his office after the ruling insisted the judiciary was independent.
“The judges will have reached their verdict only after considering all the evidence in a balanced and objective manner,” it said
“That process is now complete, and we call on all parties involved to respect the legal process and the judgement.”
But Human Rights Watch condemned the case as part of a rapidly deteriorating rights situation that has seen the government launch a crackdown on free speech, calling it a “travesty of justice”.
Amnesty International called it “an oppressive ruling that will have a chilling effect on freedom of expressio..”
Hundreds of Anwar supporters became locked in a tense standoff with riot police near the court after the ruling, but the confrontation appeared to be easing.
It is the second disputed sodomy conviction for Anwar in a career marked by sharp ups and downs.
He was a popular top leader of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) until he was ousted in a bitter 1998 power struggle that saw him arrested and jailed for six years on previous sodomy and corruption charges.
The case was widely viewed as tainted by politics, and the sodomy conviction was eventually thrown out.
* Agence France-Presse