By M. JEGATHESAN, ROMEN BOSE/AFP
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy trial, which was due to have opened Wednesday, was postponed after his chief defence lawyer fell ill.
High Court judge Mohamad Zabidin Mohamad Diah said he would set a new trial date next Wednesday in the case in which Anwar is accused of having sexual relations with a young man who worked in his office.
Anwar, who was sacked as deputy premier and jailed on separate sodomy and corruption charges a decade ago, says the latest allegations are a conspiracy to prevent him from seizing power from the Barisan Nasional coalition.
“It is a mockery of the whole process. They are hiding a lot of evidence from my lawyers. There is no transparency. These are trumped-up charges,” he told reporters at the court.
“They will find any reason to deny me (the chance) to function as the leader of the opposition,” he said. “I will fight injustice, I’m not afraid of being detained.”
Judge Mohamad Zabidin accepted the defence request for a postponement over the objections of the prosecution, and said that on July 15 he would set a new trial date and deal with two defence applications.
Anwar’s lawyers are pushing for disclosure of evidence including DNA samples, medical reports and CCTV footage, and are also moving to strike out the case altogether.
“Until and unless we dispose of the application, we cannot start with the trial,” the judge told the court.
However, Anwar’s lawyers said that if the strike-out application is unsuccessful they will go to the Court of Appeal, making it likely there will be further delays before the trial can get under way.
Defence lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah said that lead counsel Sulaiman Abdullah was undergoing tests in hospital after complaining of dizziness.
“We are hoping to complete the investigations by the end of the week. No doubt it has public interest–we do not see the need to be rushed along at an undue pace since the lead counsel is unwell,” he told the court.
The allegations, which carry a penalty of 20 years imprisonment, threaten to end Anwar’s political career, which he resurrected after spending six years in jail. He was freed in 2004 when the sodomy conviction was overturned.
However, analysts say that if the 61-year-old opposition leader is sent to jail once more on charges widely seen as politically motivated, it could cast him as a martyr and do serious damage to the ruling coalition.
A survey last year found just 11 percent of Malaysians believed the accusations that Anwar sodomised Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who was then a 23-year-old volunteer at his office.
Some 150 supporters wearing black garments gathered outside the court, well down on the thousands that had been expected as word got around that the trial would be postponed.
“We do not believe that Anwar will get a fair trial and we want this sham to end,” said Shamsul Iskandar, youth wing chief of Anwar’s Keadilan party, which leads an opposition alliance that made big gains in 2008 national elections.
“Anwar is being victmised because he is demanding reform and the government is afraid of this,” he told AFP as some 100 police officers stood guard at the glass doors of the court.
Among the crowd that chanted the opposition battlecry of “Reformasi” (Reform), was 33-year-old Norashikin Ismail, dressed in a blue headscarf and floral traditional dress who came with five of her office coworkers.
“This is a waste of taxpayers’ money and court time to try someone who most Malaysians know is not guilty of such obscene charges”, she told AFP. “He should be set free.”
Pejabat Ketua AMK