Government says Anwar verdict shows courts are free

(The Malaysian Insider) – The government said today that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s surprise acquittal this morning from a politically-charged sodomy charge proves the courts are free from  political manipulation.

“Malaysia has an independent judiciary and this verdict proves that the government does not hold sway over judges’ decisions,” French news agency AFP quoted Information Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim as saying in a statement.

The High Court today acquitted Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of a charge of sodomising his former male aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

Judge Mohd Zabidin Mohd Diah ruled that the prosecution had not done enough to prove Anwar had committed sodomy against Saiful.

But Phil Robertson, an observer with New York-based Human Rights Watch, said: “Anwar was acquitted on charges that never should have been brought in the first place.

“Hopefully, this verdict sends a verdict to the government to put this matter to rest.”

Anwar has maintained that his prosecution for sodomy was politically-motivated and a plot to kill his political career.

Today’s verdict defied the expectations of political observers and even Anwar, who had alleged that a guilty verdict was predetermined.

Rais suggested however that the verdict reflected Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s efforts at reforms which has seen the government scrapping controversial security laws and allowing a mass demonstration outside the court house this morning in support of Anwar.

“The current wave of bold democratic reforms introduced by Prime Minister Najib Razak will help extend this transparency to all areas of Malaysian life,” Rais was quoted as saying.

Najib must call elections by early next year but many observers expect polls sometime this year.

Today’s verdict appeared, however, to have provided Anwar and his Pakatan Rakyat (PR) pact a fillip, with the former deputy prime minister declaring immediately after the verdict that his main focus now would be to topple the Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

Shortly after the ruling, Anwar said on his Twitter feed that “in the coming election, (the) voice of the people will be heard and this corrupt government will be toppled from its pedestals of power.”

The trial mirrors a 1998 case in which Anwar was jailed on sodomy and corruption charges after being sacked as deputy prime minister and finance minister. He was freed in 2004 when the conviction was overturned.

Today’s court verdict had been hotly anticipated for its potential electoral impact.

In the 1990s Anwar had been groomed to succeed former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad until a bitter row between them saw Anwar ousted in 1998.