[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.
Human Rights Watch urged the Malaysian government to ensure any investigations are transparent, impartial, and in accordance with international standards of due process.
“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. [more]
Reminder: Amnesty International Press Statement in 2004 at the release of Anwar Ibrahim
AI Index: ASA 28/013/2004 (Public)
News Service No: 218
2 September 2004
Malaysia: Anwar Ibrahim’s release renews confidence in judicial independence
Amnesty International warmly welcomes today’s decision by Malaysia’s highest court to uphold the final appeals of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and his adopted brother, Sukma Darmawan. Both men had been convicted on charges of sodomy.
“The Federal Court’s decision to release Anwar Ibrahim marks an historic milestone in the restoration of confidence in the rule of law and respect for human rights in Malaysia,” said Catherine Baber, deputy Asia director at Amnesty International.
The significance of Anwar Ibrahim’s arrest and prosecution went far beyond the fate of one individual.
“It exposed a pattern of political manipulation of key state institutions including the police, public prosecutor’s office and the judiciary, all of which are crucial in safeguarding the human rights of Malaysians,” said Catherine Baber.
Amnesty International hopes today’s ruling will serve as a lasting reminder of the role the judiciary must play in scrutinising executive actions and preserving key principles — including freedom of speech and of political dissent — which are enshrined in Malaysia’s constitution and international human rights standards.
Noting how the Federal Court drew attention to abuses by police as seeking to elicit an involuntary ‘confession’ from Sukma Darmawan, Amnesty International urged the government to continue efforts to reform the police and other justice institutions. Amnesty International welcomed Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi’s creation earlier this year of a Royal Commission of Inquiry to examine the police and urges the Commission to make recommendations for wide-ranging reform. The commission is due to report in early 2005.
Anwar Ibrahim was detained in 1998 on politically motivated charges of ‘abuse of power’ and sodomy. He had been dismissed from his government posts after policy disagreements with former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, and subsequently led a series of mass public protests calling for political reform.
In a first trial Anwar Ibrahim was found guilty in 1999 of ‘abuse of power’ and completed his sentence in 2003. In a second trial he and Sukma Darmawan were found guilty on charges of sodomy in 2000. They were sentenced to nine years and six years in prison respectively.
The trial was unfair in many ways. Police used severe physical and psychological pressure to force ‘confessions’ from witnesses; defence lawyers were intimidated; and government leaders publicly criticized Anwar Ibrahim, prejudicing his right to be presumed innocent.
Sukma Darmawan, a 42 year-old businessman, had never been involved with the police or played any political role. Amnesty International believes he was prosecuted solely to secure a conviction against Anwar Ibrahim
Both Sukma Darmawan and Anwar Ibrahim were ill-treated by police while in detention. In 1998 Anwar Ibrahim was brought to court with a swollen eye and bruised arm having been beaten by the former national police chief. Sukma Darmawan testified in 1999 that his initial confession of sodomy had been forced from him after 12 days of aggressive and humiliating interrogation during which police made him stand naked, groped his genitals and taunted him.