Malaysia’s High Court has acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy, ending a two-year case that his supporters say was politically motivated. An emotional crowd greeted the acquittal, which is expected to have an impact of elections expected later this year.
As Anwar Ibrahim headed into the highly anticipated verdict on Monday, he urged the court to judge him on the evidence.
“I hope and pray that they respect the rule of law and not be dictated by the corrupt elite leadership,” said Anwar.
Anwar did not have to wait long. Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah determined that the DNA samples considered crucial to the prosecution’s case were unreliable. The judge said the court was not convinced that the samples had been properly handled by police.
Throughout the three-year ordeal, Anwar had maintained his innocence after his former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 26, claimed he had sex with his boss. Sodomy remains a crime in Malaysia that carries up to a 20 year prison term.
On Monday the presiding judge said the court was reluctant to convict on a sexual offence without corroborating evidence.
Outside the court, Anwar emerged triumphant and was almost crushed by supporters trying to catch a glimpse of their hero. He immediately thanked his family and the court for its decision, saying he would now turn his attentions to the next election.
“Yes, I think the elections are imminent and therefore we will have to work with all our forces to ensure we have free and fair elections,” said Anwar.
Hundreds of police gathered outside the courthouse where about 2,000 supporters had gathered. Police said three small explosions wounded two bystanders. It was not clear who was responsible.
This was the second time Anwar had faced these kinds of charges.
Anwar was touted as a potential prime minister under former leader Mahathir Mohammad but their friendship soured over Anwar’s political ambitions and differences over how best to handle the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
Anwar was fired and charged with sodomizing his wife’s driver. He was found guilty and jailed but the charge of sodomy was eventually overturned after he served six years behind bars.
The latest sodomy charges dated to 2008, just after his Parti Keadilan Rakyat delivered the ruling UMNO party its worst electoral drubbing since independence in 1957. UMNO lost its cherished two-thirds majority in parliament and control of four of Malaysia’s 13 states.
That result led to Najib Razak ousting his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as prime minister. Najib has since promised to win back the lost votes. Political watchers expect him to call for an early election later this year.
Politician Azmin Ali, the vice president of the opposition People’s Justice Party (PKR), says justice has been served by the verdict.
“We have been saying from day one that Anwar Ibrahim is innocent," said Ali. "I have been working with him for the last 30 years, he is innocent, he is a noble person. He has been charged, we went through the process, we produced evidence and credible witnesses all throughout the proceedings and today the truth revealed.”
Prime Minister Najib has initiated political and economic reforms designed to win over a skeptical electorate ahead of the next poll. He too could face a leadership challenge from within his own party if he fails to win back the two-thirds majority.