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Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim Appeals Conviction - 2002-02-04

Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is appealing his conviction on corruption charges. His wife says she is optimistic the hearing will be fair.

Tight security surrounded the Kuala Lumpur court as Anwar Ibrahim began his final appeal hearing.

Anwar was convicted of corruption in April 1999 and sentenced to six years in prison. His supporters say the charges were politically motivated to prevent him from eventually becoming prime minister.

The appeal hearing will last four days. Anwar's lawyer is arguing the evidence in his trial was not enough to convict him of trying to interfere in an investigation of his sexual conduct. Anwar also was convicted of sexual misconduct charges.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad fired the deputy prime minister in 1998. At the time, political opposition was growing as Malaysia's economy sank into a deep recession during the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s. A few months later Anwar was charged with the criminal offenses.

Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, now leads the opposition Keadilan Party. She sees the appeal as an opportunity for the court to undo earlier mistakes. "As a foreign mission has said, this is a chance fortunately for the court to redeem itself after being slightly flawed during the trial," she said. "So we will have to let the court proceed and we will have to wait."

Dr. Wan Azizah said her husband remains optimistic, despite his legal ordeal. "Anwar has never lost his optimism, even in the darkest hours," she said, "but today I can see that after being in solitary confinement for a long time, this is a time when he gets to meet people, to see the support has given him a real boost."

Anwar's political fortunes could be raised if the court quashed the corruption conviction, said Lim Kit Sang, chairman of the Democratic Action Party. "I think Anwar is still a factor to be reckoned with, whatever the changed post-September 11th scenario," he said. "Although it is somewhat diminished from two [or] three years back, he is still definitely a factor."

Dr. Wan Azizah said her husband's return to the media spotlight also gives opposition parties an opportunity to raise their profiles. The opposition has been overshadowed by a surge in support for Prime Minister Mahathir, after he endorsed the U.S. war on terrorism and cracked down on suspected Islamic militants in Malaysia.