Malaysian Opposition Leader Begins Defense

By Liz Gooch, New York Times

KUALA LUMPUR — The Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim  began his defense in his sodomy trial on Monday, declaring the charges “a vile and despicable attempt at character assassination.”

After Mr. Anwar delivered a 32-page statement in which he said the trial was a conspiracy by Prime Minister Najib Razak to send him into “political oblivion,” Mr. Anwar’s lawyers disclosed that they had issued subpoenas compelling Mr. Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, to appear in court as witnesses.

Mr. Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, is accused of sodomizing a former political aide in 2008 in a Kuala Lumpur apartment and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, has accused Mr. Anwar of having coerced him into having sex, but even consensual sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia .

It is the second time that Mr. Anwar has faced such charges. In 1998, he was convicted of sodomy and abuse of power, and although the sodomy conviction was later overturned, he spent six years in prison.

Denying that he had ever had sexual relations with the former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, Mr. Anwar dismissed his accuser’s allegations as “a blatant and vicious lie.”

“They can do all they want to assassinate my character and sully my reputation and threaten me with another 20 years of imprisonment, but, mark my words, they won’t be able to cow me into submission,” he said before a packed courtroom. “On the contrary, it only serves to fortify my conviction that the truth will eventually prevail. Come what come may, I shall never surrender.”

Mr. Anwar chose to deliver a statement from the floor of the courtroom on Monday, rather than take the witness stand, denying the prosecution the opportunity to cross-examine him. He said that he would have given evidence from the witness box if not for “all the handicaps foisted on me” and the manner in which the presiding judge, Mohamad Zabidin Diah, had conducted the trial.

In a scathing critique, during which he quoted Nelson Mandela, Shakespeare and the Koran, Mr. Anwar said Mr. Diah had demonstrated a “complete lack of impartiality.”

He said the judge had failed to respond to a number of issues pertinent to the case, such as an alleged affair between a member of the prosecution and the former aide, statements made by government politicians that he said amounted to contempt of court, and suggestions that DNA samples used to establish the prosecution’s case might have been contaminated.

Mr. Anwar said that the judge, who has rejected his requests that he disqualify himself from hearing the trial on the grounds that he was biased, had prejudged the trial by declaring Mr. Saiful a “truthful witness.”

Mr. Anwar said that it was obvious that Mr. Saiful was “lying through his teeth.” He said that Mr. Saiful was a fit young man in his early 20s, while he was a 60-year-old man with a history of back injury.

“It would take a great stretch of the imagination to suggest that I could pose any physical harm to him,” he said.

Later, Mr. Anwar added: “The court’s integrity has been completely compromised and bears all the classic symptoms of a show trial where the script has been effectively written and the outcome a foregone conclusion.”

Mr. Anwar repeated his claim that the trial was a “conspiracy” by Mr. Najib “to send me into political oblivion by attempting once again to put me behind bars.”

“This is not a criminal trial. It is a charade staged by the powers that be to put me out of action in order that they remain in power,” he said, adding that the “relentless conviction” to send him back to prison became “all the more imperative” after the 2008 elections, when the opposition made unprecedented gains.

The government has denied that the trial is politically motivated.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, Mr. Anwar said that his lawyers had subpoenaed seven witnesses, including Mr. Najib.

Karpal Singh, one of Mr. Anwar’s lawyers, said that the subpoenas should already have been served on Mr. Najib and his wife, who had earlier refused to be interviewed by defense lawyers.

“When a subpoena is issued, a witness must turn up in court,” Mr. Karpal said. “The judge will decide whether a subpoena should be set aside. If a witness is in a position to give material evidence, then the subpoena cannot be set aside. That witness must give evidence from the witness box.”

Forensic experts are expected to testify on Tuesday.