(New York, July 21, 2008) – Malaysian government allegations that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim forcibly sodomized a male aide lack credibility, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch is concerned that Anwar’s arrest was a politically motivated attempt to derail the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat’s (People’s Alliance) much-publicized campaign to form a new government by September 16, 2008.
“The Malaysian government’s record provides little basis to believe this is anything other than a partisan political attack on Anwar,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “In light of past false allegations and his unfair trial, Anwar has good reason to worry that his rights won’t be respected.”
The police have to date refused to release the first information report lodged by former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan on June 28. Anwar’s lawyers have repeatedly requested the report, which under Malaysian law is a public document. A person named in a first information report has the right to a copy of the report. The refusal of the police to make the original report public has fueled suspicions that it may be altered. Saiful remains under police protection.
Human Rights Watch said that the arrest of Anwar on July 16, one hour before he was due at Kuala Lumpur Police Contingent Headquarters for questioning, was unnecessary and heavy-handed. Anwar has repeatedly pledged – the last time just before his arrest on July 16 – to fully cooperate with the investigation. Some 20 police officers in 10 cars stopped Anwar, who was returning home by car, and took him in a police car for questioning. Many wore balaclavas to hide their identities. After more than five hours of questioning, police kept Anwar in a holding cell overnight with no bed. He had to sleep on a cement floor despite a well-known back problem.
“The police operation to arrest Anwar was designed to intimidate and punish,” Adams said. “This inquiry has already raised serious concerns about police bias, transparency, and the government’s willingness to flout the law for political ends.”
Sodomy, even if consensual, is punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment. It is unclear whether Anwar will be formally charged with sodomy. The standard practice in Malaysia is that once police conclude investigations, they forward the investigation papers to the Attorney General’s Chambers to evaluate the evidence and decide whether to prosecute. Human Rights Watch said that recent comments by senior Cabinet ministers, including Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi and Home Minister Syed Hamid that Anwar should provide a DNA sample to the police constitute improper interference.
On July 18, Prime Minister Abdullah said “If he is not guilty, why worry about giving a new DNA sample. If he is indeed innocent, there is nothing for him to fear… If he has not done anything, than provide a sample. Do it. I want to see it. Let’s see the result which could prove that he did not do it.” Anwar had refused to voluntarily provide his DNA sample, due to concern that it could be manipulated against him.
“Comments by government ministers about Anwar’s case are improper pressure on the police and prosecutor,” said Adams. “Malaysia claims to be a well-ordered democracy wedded to the rule of law, but the Anwar investigation says just the opposite.”
Background: Anwar Prosecution, Take Two
Human Rights Watch said that the current case bears a strong resemblance to the previous politically motivated corruption and sodomy charges against Anwar in 1998, while he was serving as deputy prime minister and finance minister. Those charges came after Anwar challenged then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over accusations of corruption, cronyism and mismanagement of the Asian financial crisis, leading to Anwar’s dismissal.
The High Courts in 1999 and 2000 sentenced Anwar to a total of 15 years of imprisonment for corruption and sodomy, despite his appearing in court with extensive facial bruises from a police custodial beating by the then national police chief – who was convicted in 2000 for assaulting Anwar – and the grave discrepancies that pervaded the entire police investigation, prosecution and trial processes. Anwar served six years before Malaysia’s apex Federal Court overturned the sodomy conviction in September 2004.
Anwar testified on July 16 and 21, 2008 before the Anti-Corruption Agency that the present inspector general of police (then investigating officer in both the corruption and sodomy charges) and attorney general (then senior deputy public prosecutor for the sodomy case) fabricated evidence in relation to the serious assault he suffered while under police custody.
Anwar was barred from running for a parliamentary seat at the time of Malaysia’s general elections on March 8, 2008, but the coalition he is credited with forging, Pakatan Rakyat, succeeded in drastically reducing the power of the long-dominant Barisan Nasional (National Front) government coalition by winning 81 parliamentary seats and seizing control of five state governments, including Selangor and Penang. Until March, Barisan Nasional had enjoyed a two-thirds, veto-proof majority in the 222-seat house and the control of all state governments except one.