Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister, describes the case as a 'conspiracy' to end his political career
In Malaysia, the politically charged trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on charges of sodomy has begun. The former deputy prime minister maintains the case is a conspiracy to end his political career.
Lawyers for Anwar Ibrahim's said they intend to call Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife as witnesses. They accuse the couple of taking part in a conspiracy to end Anwar's political career.
Reporters, legal observers, and diplomats from the United States, Japan and European nations packed the courtroom for the opening day of the trial.
In March of 2008 Anwar lead an opposition alliance, which won a third of the parliamentary seats in the general elections. Five months later he was charged with sodomizing a 25-year-old male former aide. Anwar denies the charges.
This is the second time Anwar has been charged with this crime. He spent six years in prison after being convicted of sodomy and corruption, following his ouster from the cabinet in 1998 during a power struggle with then leader Mahathir Mohamad. He maintained his innocence all along and was freed in 2004 when Malaysia's top court overturned the sodomy conviction.
Political science professor James Chin, of the Monash University in Malaysia, says even if he is not convicted, the repeated charges of sodomy could hurt Anwar politically.
"Sodomy is such a serious offense in a Muslim community," Chin said. "By charging him again with sodomy you simply reinforce the image that this guy is involved with other men."
A conviction could result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years. It also would bar Anwar from politics for five years from the date of his release. Defense lawyers say the trial could drag on for eight months. Chin says the National Front coalition government wants the trial to last a long time.
"I think the general consensus among the educated and middle class in Malaysia is that this is a politically motivated trial [and] the ruling party will try to drag it out as long as possible simply because they want to distract Anwar from using a stronger opposition," Chin said.
But the trial could also stain Malaysia's long-held image as a moderate Muslim-majority nation. In addition to this highly publicized trial, in the past few months there have been fire bombings and vandalism of churches and mosques over a religious dispute and a young woman was sentence to caning for drinking beer.