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Wife of Jailed Politician in Malaysia Calls for His Release - 2004-08-13

In Malaysia, the wife of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is urging the government to release him from jail so he can travel overseas for medical treatment. But some analysts see few signs the government is likely to release him.

Azizah Ismail thinks Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi is sympathetic to her husband's request for medical treatment in Germany.

Anwar Ibrahim's health, which has been poor for years, worsened last month when he developed paralysis after an injury to his spine. He says the injury is the result of a beating by police officers after his arrest in 1998.

Azizah Ismail recently told VOA she believes the time may be right for Prime Minister Abdullah to allow her husband to travel overseas.

"We appealed to basically (to) the new prime minister to listen to Anwar's appeals and at least allow him to his treatment and for the judiciary to be perceived and seen as to be independent," Ms. Ismail says.

Anwar says he needs to travel to Germany for a type of surgery he says is not available in Malaysia. The government says the procedure can be done in Malaysia.

This week marks the sixth year behind bars for Anwar Ibrahim, who once was expected to succeed former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. He was arrested on charges of corruption and sexual misconduct in 1998, and is serving a nine-year prison sentence on the sex charges.

Anwar's supporters say the charges were trumped up by Mr. Mahathir's government after Anwar backed economic reforms during the Asian financial crisis. Mr. Mahathir, who left office last year, has strenuously denied the accusation.

Since her husband's arrest, his wife, a physician by training, has become a political force in Malaysia. She campaigns on behalf of Anwar, and maintains he is a political prisoner who should be freed immediately for his health. Her husband also is pursuing other legal appeals.

"If the court case finds him not guilty then he's free to do whatever he wants to and go for treatment of his choice. The other thing is of course, he is a political prisoner and he should be freed," Ms. Ismail says.

Bill Case, a political scientist at Queensland's Griffith University, does not expect a substantial change in the government's attitude toward Anwar Ibrahim.

"We're not going to see any dramatic improvement in his treatment and we're probably not going to see any change on the part of the judiciary, and I expect that Anwar will now proceed to complete his second sentence," Mr. Case says.

Mr. Case says that even though Anwar now commands just a fraction of the public support he once held, he is still perceived in some political quarters as a threat to the government.