Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was back in court Thursday over a government appeal against his sodomy acquittal, as he prepared to contest a key state by-election.
The 66-year-old veteran politician, who was acquitted in 2012, slammed the appeal, saying it was a political ploy to tarnish his image in the conservative Muslim-majority nation.
“There is absolutely no case for them. This is clearly seen to be political,” Anwar said as he entered the Court of Appeal with his family for the hearing in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.
Anwar will contest a seat in central Selangor state, the country’s main economic hub surrounding the capital, Kuala Lumpur, in a by-election set for March 23.
Analysts expect him to win, and subsequently hold the powerful post of the state’s chief minister, in a bid to boost his political career and restore unity in his party, rocked by an internal power struggle.
The sodomy appeal hearing has been postponed numerous times as the defence has sought but failed to disqualify the government’s lawyer, alleging he is biased toward the long-ruling coalition.
A Kuala Lumpur high court had previously found Anwar not guilty of having sex with a young, male, former aide following an acrimonious two-year trial.
In his ruling, the judge said controversial DNA evidence submitted by the prosecution in the case was unreliable.
Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan accused Anwar in 2008 of having had sex with him.
Anwar has dismissed the charges as a political ploy to send him to jail and damage his reputation after key opposition gains in 2008 elections.
Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia and punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
It is not the first time the former deputy premier has faced sodomy charges.
In 1998, he was sacked from the number two post by then-ruling strongman Mahathir Mohamad and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges.
The sodomy charge was later overturned, and he was released from prison in 2004 to helm the opposition, posing the first real challenge ever to the five-decade-ruling Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition.
In elections in May last year, the opposition lost again, alleging fraud in marginal seats swayed the results and cost it an historic victory.
The government has dismissed such claims, as well as allegations it is behind the sodomy case.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) this week called on Malaysia’s court to drop the case against Anwar.
“This trial is clearly politically motivated to rebuff the most serious political challenge posed to the alliance that has ruled Malaysia since its independence,” said Yap Swee Seng, executive director of Suaram, a Malaysian opposition-leaning NGO and FIDH member.