Summary and Current Status
Anwar Ibrahim, a Malaysian economist and former deputy prime minister, was arrested on September 20, 1998. He was subsequently charged with corruption for allegedly interfering with police investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. In April 1999, following a trial widely believed to be unfair, Mr. Anwar was sentenced to six years' imprisonment.
Two months later, the Malaysian government brought a second charge against Mr. Anwar, that of committing sodomy several years earlier with his family's former driver. In a trial that once again failed to meet international fair trial standards, Mr. Anwar was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment, which he was ordered to serve after he completed his six-year sentence.
In April 2003, Mr. Anwar finished serving his first sentence. (His six-year sentence was reduced by one third, to four years, for good behavior.) On September 2, 2004, while serving his second, nine-year sentence, Mr. Anwar was released from prison, following the final appeal hearing of his second conviction. In a two to one decision by a panel of three judges Malaysia’s highest court, the Federal Court, ruled to uphold Mr. Anwar’s appeal against his 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 its decision the court ruled that the High Court had “misdirected itself” in convicting Mr. Anwar and his brother on sodomy charges at their trial in 2000, primarily because the evidence of the prosecution’s main witness in the case had been “uncorroborated” and could not be deemed credible.
Amnesty International considered Mr. Anwar to be a prisoner of conscience "brought to trial not because of any particular alleged crime, but because of his dissenting political activities and the challenge he posed to government leaders . . . . The events following the dismissal from office of Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 have exposed as never before the fragility of human rights safeguards in Malaysia . . . . 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."
Throughout his imprisonment, Mr. Anwar was held in Sungai Buloh Prison in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital. His health seriously deteriorated during his incarceration, primarily due to spinal problems, which he claims were greatly exacerbated by the severe beating he was given following his arrest. Mr. Anwar’s repeated requests in recent years to be allowed to travel to Munich, Germany to have endoscopic spinal microsurgery at a specialty clinic there were denied by the Malaysian government. According to press accounts, on September 6, four days after his release from prison, the surgery was performed without incident at the specialty clinic, Alpha Klinik, in Munich. Following several weeks of recovery, Mr. Anwar returned to Malaysia on October 31, 2004.
Mr. Anwar is a Malaysian economist and former cabinet minister. On September 2, 1998, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad dismissed Mr. Anwar from his high-level governments positions as deputy prime minister and minister of finance. The following day, the Malaysian police announced publicly that Mr. Anwar was under criminal investigation and filed several reportedly unsubstantiated affidavits accusing him of involvement in sexual misconduct, tampering with evidence of the alleged misconduct, bribery, and threatening national security. Although no charges had formally been brought, the content of the affidavits was released publicly and received wide coverage in the national and international press.
On September 20, 1998, Mr. Anwar was arrested under Article 73(1) of the vaguely-worded Internal Security Act, which allows for indefinite detention without charge. Between September 20 and 29, 1998, 17 of Mr. Anwar's supporters who apparently were perceived by the government to be politically influential were also arrested. After being held in incommunicado detention for nine days, Mr. Anwar was brought to court on September 29 and formally charged with five counts each of corruption and committing "unnatural sex" (sodomy), charges which do not fall under the auspices of the ISA. At his court appearance, Mr. Anwar reportedly showed visible signs of ill-treatment, including bruises and swelling around his eye. He stated that he had been beaten severely while in police custody and was not allowed medical treatment until five days after the incident. (In January 1999, the Inspector-General of Police resigned, acknowledging responsibility for Mr. Anwar's injuries and claiming that he had been "provoked" into assaulting Mr. Anwar. A Royal Commission of Inquiry subsequently investigated the incident, found that the Inspector-General was the perpetrator and recommended that charges of attempting to cause grievous hurt be brought against him. In early 2000, the Inspector-General was convicted—though on the lesser charge of "causing hurt"—and sentenced to two months' imprisonment. He was immediately released on bail pending his appeal. In 2001, the former Inspector-General served just 40 days of his sentence.)
In April 1999, following a trial that failed to meet international fair trial standards, Mr. Anwar was convicted of corruption for allegedly misusing his ministerial office by interfering with police investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. He was sentenced to six years' imprisonment, as well as being barred from returning to politics for an additional five years following his release. It is our understanding that members of Mr. Anwar's defense team were intimidated by the police and by the judge who tried the case. Acts of intimidation reportedly included summoning members of the defense team to the police station for questioning and sentencing one of Mr. Anwar's defense lawyers to three months' imprisonment for contempt, reportedly for filing papers, backed by evidence, alleging that prosecutors had tried to fabricate evidence against Mr. Anwar. (The sentence was subsequently overturned on appeal.) Furthermore, in the weeks prior to the trial, the prime minister proclaimed publicly that he believed Mr. Anwar was guilty of sodomy, thus biasing the process.
The charges of sodomy against Mr. Anwar reportedly were withdrawn during the trial. However, in June 1999, following widespread public demonstrations of support for Mr. Anwar, he was charged once again with committing sodomy several years earlier, this time with his family's former driver. The second trial reportedly also failed to meet international fair trial standards. The High Court Judge allowed the prosecution to amend the charges twice to bring them in line with testimony given by witnesses for the prosecution; specifically the prosecution was twice allowed to change the month and year that the act of sodomy allegedly took place. Furthermore several male associates of Mr. Anwar came forward to claim that they were severely tortured or ill-treated by police, while being held in incommunicado detention without access to legal counsel, to force them to say they had had homosexual relations with Mr. Anwar. Their "confessions" were then used as evidence by the prosecution. We understand that the Malaysian government did not carry out impartial investigations into these serious allegations. Instead, based solely on police testimonies, the Malaysian High Court ruled that the prosecution had proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the police had not committed any abuse and that the confessions had been made voluntarily. Furthermore, in several of the cases, the Malaysian authorities have lodged perjury charges against the complainants.
Further irregularities in Mr. Anwar's second trial included the arrest of his lawyer, Karpal Singh, a prominent Malaysian lawyer who—in contravention of Malaysian law and international legal standards—was charged with sedition for suggesting in court that his client may have been poisoned while detained in prison. (The prosecution subsequently dropped the charges, reportedly following intense pressure from domestic and international legal bodies.)
In early September 1999, Mr. Anwar's doctors declared him unfit to stand trial when test results from a laboratory in Australia showed an abnormal level of arsenic in his body, and the trial was postponed for a month. Mr. Anwar subsequently alleged that he was being slowly poisoned by prison personnel at the behest of his political opponents. He reportedly showed signs of sudden hair loss, numbness in the fingers, erratic blood pressure, and significant weight loss. Doctors from a Malaysian government hospital reportedly conducted their own tests and contended that the original test results were erroneous. The trial had to be adjourned several additional times due to Mr. Anwar's continued ill-health.
In late June 2000, after a year of hearings, a judge adjourned Mr. Anwar's trial. On August 8, 2000, he was convicted of sodomizing his family driver and sentenced to nine years' imprisonment, to be served after completion of his previous six year sentence. He was also banned from political activity for an additional five years.
Given the information above, the CHR believes that Mr. Anwar was incarcerated solely for peacefully criticizing the Malaysian government and advocating political and social reform in accordance with his internationally recognized rights to freedom of opinion and expression. In the months prior to his arrest, Mr. Anwar had criticized Prime Minister Mahathir's policies, spoken out against corruption within the government, and advocated political and social reform. Just hours before his arrest, Mr. Anwar led a massive rally calling for reform and urging Prime Minister Mahathir to resign.
As mentioned above, when Mr. Anwar was arrested on the evening of September 20 at his home, criminal charges that he could challenge in court were not brought; instead he was seized under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and threatened with sedition and treason. When charges were actually filed in court nine days later, they involved solely allegations of sodomy and corruption, neither of which fall under the auspices of the ISA—thus strongly suggesting that his arrest was politically motivated. Furthermore, we reiterate that 17 of Mr. Anwar's supporters who reportedly were perceived by the government to have potential political influence within the ruling party and the wider Malay Muslim community were also arrested. Most were released without charge within days. After several days of public protests by Mr. Anwar's supporters, led by his wife, Dr. Wan Azizah, the authorities issued a restraining order (under the ISA) against Dr. Wan Azizah, prohibiting her from speaking at public rallies or holding political gatherings.
It would appear that Mr. Anwar's arrest was the first step in an effort by the Malaysian government to severely repress the political opposition in Malaysia. In the months and years following Mr. Anwar's arrest, the Malaysian government imposed strict controls on rallies, arrested hundreds of people who were peacefully protesting his arrest, shut down opposition publications, and banned public rallies in Kuala Lumpur.
Mr. Anwar brought three defamation suits against Prime Minister Mahathir for publicly accusing him of sodomy before an investigation had been conducted, for dismissing him from his post as deputy prime minister, and for injuries he received when assaulted by police. The three suits were all dismissed.
According to reliable reports, Mr. Anwar's health deteriorated considerably in the months and years following his arrest. In November 2000, Anwar Ibrahim was transferred to the state-run Kuala Lumpur Hospital because he had a slipped disc that was pressing on a spinal nerve. (He has claimed that his condition was caused in part by the severe beating inflicted on him by the Inspector General while in police custody.) On May 10, 2001, although he was still reported to be in pain and to require a back brace, Anwar Ibrahim was removed from the hospital and returned to prison, reportedly because he rejected a government offer to have generalized spinal surgery at Kuala Lumpur Hospital. He had requested, instead, to be allowed to travel to a specialist spinal clinic in Munich, Germany to have endoscopic spinal microsurgery performed by his chosen surgeon, Dutch specialist Thomas Hoogland. (This procedure, which reportedly is less risky than that proposed by the government hospital in Kuala Lumpur, is not available in Malaysia.) The government denied his request. The government said that Dr. Hoogland would be allowed to transport the needed equipment and perform the endoscopic surgery in Malaysia, but he reportedly has said that he could not perform the surgery successfully at Kuala Lumpur hospital. Mr. Anwar suffered considerable and chronic pain as a result of his back problems, for which he reportedly had to take strong painkillers.
Three members of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia—created by the government in April 2000 and whose members were officially appointed—reportedly visited Mr. Anwar in his prison cell for an hour on May 22, 2001, in an effort to assess his situation. According to press accounts, they also consulted with doctors and other members of the rights commission. On May 31, 2001, the commission issued a statement supporting Mr. Anwar's right to have spinal surgery abroad, stating that he "should be allowed to exercise his right of choice of medical treatment." The Commission also said in its statement that there are "no prohibitions in law" against allowing prisoners to obtain medical treatment abroad. It noted that it is accepted medical practice to respect a patient's choice of treatment and that, "under normal circumstances," a person charged with similar offences could have been granted bail pending an appeal and thus been able to go abroad for medical treatment..
On February 4, 2002, Mr. Anwar's appeal hearing against his conviction for corruption began in the Malaysian Federal Court. On February 7, 2002, the hearing was adjourned. It reopened on March 26 and lasted for four additional days. (The hearing was initially scheduled to last only four days, but Mr. Anwar's lawyers requested an additional four or five days to present their case.) The judges, who stated that they would require time to deliberate all of the issues presented during the eight-day hearing before making a final judgment, did not make a decision until July 10, 2002. (Mr. Anwar's appeal had been postponed by the court three times since it was originally scheduled for November 2000. He began a fast in mid January 2002 to protest the lengthy and repeated postponements of his hearing; he ended the fast one week later when he was informed by the court of the February 4 hearing date.) The judges decided to turn down Mr. Anwar's appeal, and his conviction was upheld, despite the overwhelming evidence that his trial had been fraught with irregularities and that the prosecution failed to provide credible evidence to support the charges it had brought.
Mr. Anwar subsequently filed an appeal against the sodomy conviction. On April 18, 2003, the Court of Appeals upheld the earlier court ruling that Mr. Anwar was guilty of sodomy. As stated in the “Summary and Current Status” section above, that decision was overturned on September 2, 2004, in a final appeal before the Federal Court, the highest court in the country, and Mr. Anwar was freed from prison.
On September 15, 2004, the Federal Court decided that it was not prepared to review its previous decision, made in 2002, to uphold Mr. Anwar’s conviction on charges of corruption on the grounds that his application to the court had “no merit.” All legal channels available to Mr. Anwar to have his first conviction (for corruption) overturned have now been exhausted. Although Mr. Anwar finished serving his sentence for corruption in April 2003, he remains barred from returning to politics until 2008, a stipulation that was part of his original sentence but which would have been overturned if the Court had ruled in his favor.