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PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (UPDATED) – Malaysia’s highest court on Tuesday, October 28, opened two days of hearings expected to produce a final ruling on the much-criticized sodomy charges against Anwar Ibrahim that could send the opposition leader to jail.
Anwar was cleared in 2012 of charges he sodomized a young former male aide 4 years earlier, but that acquittal was controversially overturned in March by an appeals court, which convicted him.
A panel of justices with Malaysia’s Federal Court, the country’s highest, is to hear Anwar’s challenge to the conviction. The government also is seeking to lengthen the 5-year sentence he was hit with. (READ: Déjà vu as Malaysia’s Anwar faces threat of jail)
Rulings are expected on Wednesday.
“We have a strong case,” Anwar told reporters as he entered the court, which was ringed by about 200 armed police and steel security barricades, in a sign of the case’s political sensitivity.
“I hope I will be vindicated and acquitted by the highest court in the land tomorrow.”
As the hearings got underway at the Federal Court, Anwar tweeted, “I do not want to go jail but if I am forced to, I will go fighting a corrupt government.”
The International Federation for Human Rights, which groups 178 member-organizations worldwide, on Monday called this week’s hearing “a decisive test for Malaysia’s judiciary” and called for a just ruling free of political interference.
Anwar, 67, says the charges are part of a long-running plot by the country’s authoritarian regime to ruin his career – and cripple the fast-rising opposition – by repeatedly tarring him with spurious charges of sodomy, which is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia.
A popular former deputy premier, Anwar was sensationally ousted from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in 1998 in a power struggle and jailed on previous sodomy and corruption charges widely seen as trumped up.
He was released after 6 years, when that earlier sodomy charge was thrown out.
The affair sparked massive anti-government demonstrations, galvanizing an opposition movement that, under Anwar’s charismatic leadership, has since pushed once-invincible UMNO to the wall.
Promising to end decades of corruption, crony capitalism, and UMNO’s use of divisive racial politics in the multi-ethnic country, the 3-party opposition won a majority of votes cast in elections last year.
UMNO retained power thanks to what critics call decades of parliamentary gerrymandering.
The latest case against Anwar has been roundly condemned.
The US State Department said his March conviction raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the court.
UMNO has governed since independence in 1957, bringing decades of rapid economic development under a controversial formula that reserves political primacy for the Muslim ethnic-Malay majority.
But a new multi-racial generation of voters, impatient with UMNO’s tight grip, has increasingly deserted the regime.
Jailing Anwar would remove the opposition’s talisman just as the diverse coalition faces growing rifts.
Huge anti-government demonstrations have been held in recent years, some ending in violent police crackdowns, but Anwar has not directly called for protests if jailed.
Hundreds of pro-Anwar and pro-government demonstrators gathered outside the court Tuesday but the situation was calm.
The opposition’s success in recent years has triggered rising political tensions, with Muslim conservatives ratcheting up rhetoric against a perceived threat posed by the multi-faith opposition to Islam’s leading role.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government also is waging a crackdown – via Malaysia’s sedition law – on the opposition and other critics, drawing criticism from international rights groups, UN human rights experts, and the US embassy. – Rappler.com