Malaysian Economist Anwar Ibrahim Released from Prison following Appeal
September 2, 2004 (updated on October 31, 2004)
This morning Malaysian economist and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was released from prison following a decision by Malaysia’s highest court to uphold his appeal against a conviction and nine-year prison sentence on charges of sodomy. His brother, Sukma Darmawan—who was convicted together with Mr. Anwar on the same charges—was released from prison as well. In a 2 to 1 decision three judges of Malaysia’s Federal Court ruled that the High Court had “misdirected itself” in convicting Mr. Anwar and his brother; the evidence of the prosecution’s main witness in the case had been “uncorroborated” and could not be deemed credible, and the co-defendants should have been acquitted as soon as the prosecution had made its case at the trial in 2000. Mr. Anwar, whose health sharply deteriorated after his arrest in 1998, had been declared medically unfit to attend the hearing. However, because his attendance at the court was mandatory for the hearing to take place and his failure to do so would have meant that the hearing would be postponed (as it already had been several times), he insisted on coming to the court, despite being in severe pain. On September 6, four days after his release, Mr. Anwar had microsurgery performed on his spine at a specialist spinal clinic in Munich, Germany. (During his imprisonment, Mr. Anwar’s repeated requests to be allowed to have the surgery at the clinic were denied by the Malaysian authorities.) According to press accounts, the surgery took place without incident. Following several weeks of recovery, Mr. Anwar returned to Malaysia on October 31, 2004.
Mr. Anwar was detained for political reasons in September 1998 and charged with sodomy and “abuse of power” for allegedly interfering with police investigations into the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. Just two weeks earlier he had been dismissed from his positions as deputy prime minister and minister of finance by then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Given that, in the months prior to his dismissal, Mr. Anwar had been publicly critical of the prime minister’s economic policies and Mr. Anwar’s popularity among the Malaysian people had been growing significantly, it is widely believed that, as stated by Amnesty International, he was “brought to trial not because of any alleged crime, but because of his dissenting political activities. . . . In order to remove Anwar Ibrahim from political life and to discredit him publicly, those in power in Malaysia resorted to measures including the misuse of law, state institutions and the courts, the ill-treatment of detainees to coerce confessions, and the erosion of the right to a fair trial.”
Following a trial that failed to meet international fair trial standards and was widely condemned by the international community, Mr. Anwar was convicted in 1999 of “abuse of power” and sentenced to six years in prison. In 2000, again following a trial that again seriously violated his right to due process, he was convicted of sodomy; he was sentenced to nine years in prison and was ordered to serve the two sentences consecutively. Although Mr. Anwar finished serving the first sentence in April 2003—having received a one-third reduction in his sentence for good behavior in accordance with Malaysian law—the Federal Court had agreed to grant Mr. Anwar’s request to review in the coming days its earlier decision (in 2002) to uphold Mr. Anwar’s “abuse of power” conviction. (His initial conviction, in addition to a prison sentence, had barred him from any political activity for five years.) On September 15, 2004, the Federal Court ruled that it was not prepared to review its 2002 decision, reportedly on the grounds that Mr. Anwar’s application had “no merit.” Mr. Anwar has now exhausted all domestic legal remedies available and will be prevented from holding political office until 2008.
Mr. Anwar’s release from prison has been welcomed by the international community and is widely viewed as providing a significant boost of confidence in the rule of law and respect for human rights in Malaysia, which had seriously deteriorated partly as a result of the government’s handling of the case. The Committee on Human Rights is gratified that Mr. Anwar was finally accorded his fundamental right to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. The committee regularly intervened on Mr. Anwar’s behalf with the Malaysian authorities since it undertook his case in 1999, as have member academies of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies.
For more detailed information on Mr. Anwar's case, please see his case summary.