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Amnesty International Urges Malaysia to Allow Treatment Abroad for Jailed Former Official  - 2004-08-27

The human rights group, Amnesty International, is urging the Malaysian government to allow jailed former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to undergo surgery overseas for a potentially crippling back problem.

Amnesty International is urging doctors around the world to write to the Malaysian government to allow Anwar Ibrahim to travel abroad to seek medical treatment for a spinal injury.

The former deputy prime minister has been serving a 15-year jail term, after being convicted of sodomy and corruption. Amnesty says his back condition has steadily worsened in recent months.

Liz Whitelam is the Malaysia Coordinator for the Amnesty International office in Hong Kong.

"Information that we've received indicates that his condition is worsening," she said.

Mr. Anwar was rushed to a government hospital last month, when his condition deteriorated. An examination by his doctors showed that a slipped disc had caused damage to his spinal column, which in turn caused a swelling of his kidneys.

The government has said he can undergo surgery in Malaysia. But the Anwar family wants a less intrusive treatment available in Germany.

Ms. Whitelam with Amnesty also again expressed "grave concern" that the charges against the former deputy prime minister were politically motivated. "We're extremely concerned that this is Anwar's final appeal," said Liz Whitelam. "If he fails here, he'll have to serve out the remainder of the sentences, and the big concerns are his previous trials and appeals were marred by very serious violations of due process, and we're also obviously very concerned about his health."

Malaysian government officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Anwar Ibrahim was fired as finance minister and deputy prime minister in 1998, after a falling out with then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over the handling of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He was soon charged and convicted of corruption and sodomy. But Anwar Ibrahim has always maintained his innocence.

Earlier this month, Malaysia's top court delayed a verdict on Mr. Anwar's final appeal against his sodomy conviction. His lawyer, Sankara Nair, has called the delay cruel, given his client's medical condition.