Updated March 09, 2014 01:14:50
A Malaysian court has sentenced opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years' jail, overturning his acquittal on a sodomy charge.
Malaysia's court of appeal ruled that Anwar had anal intercourse with his male aide in 2008.
Anwar was sentenced to five years in jail but freed pending appeal.
The 66-year-old veteran politician, who was cleared of sodomy in 2012, said the charge was a political ploy intended to damage his reputation.
"There is absolutely no case for them, this is clearly seen to be political," Anwar said.
But a statement released by the government said the judiciary was "independent" and that the verdict was reached in a "balanced and objective manner".
"This is a case between two individuals and is a matter for the courts, not the government," a spokesman said.
The ruling sparked uproar in the courtroom, which was filled with Anwar's opposition colleagues and family.
About 150 of his supporters demonstrated outside the court after hearing the announcement.
Anwar bitterly rebuked the judges after the ruling.
"It is a travesty of justice, I would have thought you would have some courage," he told the panel.
Anwar's lawyers say they will appeal against the ruling at the country's highest court and ask for a stay of the sentence.
The judgement could affect his plans to contest a key state by-election this month.
Anwar has called the latest sodomy saga a desperate attempt by a corrupt and fearful ruling regime to halt the opposition's advance.
"This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics and the government was prepared to do whatever it took to make that happen," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
It is not the first time the former deputy premier has faced sodomy charges.
In 1998 Anwar was sacked from the number two post in the ruling party by then-ruling strongman Mahathir Mohamad, and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges.
The sodomy charge was later overturned, and Anwar was released from prison in 2004 to take over the opposition.
Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia and punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
The United States has voiced concern over what it says are politically motivated charges brought against Anwar, urging Malaysia to ensure fairness and transparency.
"The decision to prosecute Mr Anwar, and his trial, have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the court," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
"In this high-profile case, it is critical for Malaysia to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia's democracy and judiciary."
Anwar's case was loudly condemned as politically motivated, and when asked whether this was still the US stand, Ms Psaki replied "It is."
She also raised the case of the conviction of opposition figure Karpal Singh, who was found guilty of sedition even though Kuala Lumpur had vowed to abolish the law.
The outspoken, wheelchair-bound 73-year-old parliamentarian faces up to three years in prison.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has also expressed serious concern over the conviction of Karpal Singh.
Singh was found guilty of sedition late last month and is due to be sentenced on 11 March.
In a statement OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville says Malaysia's 1948 Sedition Act "is not in conformity with international human rights law."
"Using this law to limit freedom of expression and opinion could stifle enjoyment of these rights in Malaysia,” said Rupert Colville. "We urge the Government of Malaysia to review Mr Singh’s conviction and to repeal the Sedition Act – something which the Prime Minister had, in 2012, publicly undertaken to do."
If convicted Singh faces a fine of up to 5,000 Malaysian Ringgit (approximately $US1,500), a possible three year prison sentence and could lose his parliamentary membership.
Human Rights Watch had called the case against Anwar Ibrahim "politically motivated persecution" and said the government wanted to remove him from the political scene "by hook or by crook".
"It's truly a dark day for the Malaysia judiciary, which has shown itself incapable of standing up straight when national political issues are in play in cases before them," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia head of Human Rights Watch, said after the verdict.
First posted March 07, 2014 21:09:33