Agence France-Presse - 8/7/2008 2:00 AM GMT
Rights groups condemn Malaysia charges against Anwar
International human rights watchdogs Thursday called on the Malaysian government to withdraw "politically motivated" sodomy charges against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar, a former deputy premier who was jailed a decade ago on sodomy charges that were later overturned, is due to be charged in court Thursday over new accusations levelled by a 23-year-old former aide.
The timing of the allegations, after Anwar announced he would seize power with the help of government defectors in the wake of elections that handed the opposition a third of parliamentary seats, has raised fears of a conspiracy.
"The Malaysian government appears to be manipulating the legal system to shore up support for its continued rule and undermine the opposition," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"This case is really about preventing challenges to the government's rule," he said of the coalition which has ruled since independence from Britain half a century ago.
The New York-based rights group urged Malaysian authorities to grant bail to Anwar, to allow him to campaign for an August 26 by-election which is expected to return him to parliament.
Human Rights Watch said that Anwar's previous trials for sodomy and corruption, which landed him in jail for six years until 2004, "raised serious concerns about judicial independence and fairness."
"Pursuing this case will only undermine the credibility of the police, the prosecutor and the government," said Adams.
Amnesty International also expressed grave concern over the charges and said they appeared to be an attempt to prevent the 60-year-old opposition leader from re-entering parliament.
"In 1998, Amnesty International considered Anwar Ibrahim a prisoner of conscience. Today, there are again indications that the government is not playing by the rules in this case," said Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi.
"It's fair for the Malaysian people and the international community to judge the Malaysian government's respect for the rule of law based on how they proceed with this case," he said in a statement.