Jail holds no fear for me, says Malaysia's Anwar Ibrahim after sodomy ruling

But opposition leader says he is disgusted by Malaysian government's control over courts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 12:51pm

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim says he is disgusted by the control the government exerts over the country's courts but has overcome his fear of returning to jail.

Earlier this month, the 66-year-old was given a five-year jail sentence after a Malaysian court overturned his 2012 acquittal on a sodomy charge.

"None of us anticipated an immediate judgment, particularly when you want to overturn a high court ruling. Normally it would take time," he told the South China Morning Post.

"I was not disappointed but disgusted by the extent they were prepared to go to fast-track the process to bar me from the by-election later this month."

Anwar was poised to run in a by-election in the country's richest state of Selangor. A victory there would have allowed him to become chief minister, and project power nationally as the country's key opposition figure.

But a Court of Appeals panel upheld a government challenge to his acquittal in 2012 on charges that he sodomised a male former aide, saying a lower court had misjudged evidence.

Anwar is free on bail pending the hearing of his appeal, which given the usual backlog in Malaysia's courts would normally take up to a year to be heard.

But he said the judiciary might fast-track the process again.

"What I hear is two months," he said. "So it's super-efficient."

He showed no sign of fear at the prospect of a second prolonged period behind bars.

"I'm incorrigible. My wife says to me 'You're too confident outside' because it's tough for her and the children too. But you have to overcome fear," he said.

Anwar was a political star in Malaysia's ruling party, rising to deputy prime minister. But he fell from grace in 1998 after a power struggle with the country's leader at the time, Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He was beaten and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges, widely viewed as fabricated, and spent six years in prison until his 2004 release.

"Sixteen years ago, I was much younger and much healthier. Now, it's much tougher."

He planned to mobilise support for his wife, Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, in the by-election in Kajang state and will make speeches around the country.

Referring to his prison days again, he said: "It was a tight security prison and solitary confinement. It's a torture by itself. Oh my god," he said, laughing. "But you have to believe the cause is right."