An angry Anwar accused Malaysia's highest court of orchestrating a judicial charade and threatened to withdraw his appeal after the Federal Court panel ruled that none of its members would be removed from the case, though he backed down later.
 
"I have no confidence in all of you," Anwar told the judges. "I see no point in proceeding if this will be a foregone conclusion. This is a facade of a fair trial."
 
Judge Abd Al-Hamid Muhammad, whom Anwar's lawyers had sought to have removed from the appeal for saying last year Anwar's case threatened public order, replied that the former deputy prime minister would receive a fair hearing.

Anwar and his legal team conferred during a recess to decide whether to continue with the appeal, his final chance at winning his freedom in a court battle that is now in its sixth year.

After the 20-minute break, lawyer Christopher Fernando told the judges he and Anwar's other counsel had persuaded him to go ahead with the appeal.

Shortly afterward, the hearing was adjourned until Tuesday.

Political prisoner

Anwar maintains the sodomy case was fabricated by political enemies shortly after his 1998 ouster as deputy premier by then-leader Mahathir Muhammad amid a power struggle - a charge the government denied although the United States considers Anwar a political prisoner.
 

Supporters of Anwar have called
for his release

He was arrested after Mahathir released lurid details of alleged homosexual trysts between Anwar and his driver. He was convicted at separate trials for corruption and sodomy - a crime in mostly Muslim Malaysia - and sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison. He has served the corruption sentence.

Looking more sprightly than in recent court appearances, Anwar, 56, on Monday eschewed a wheelchair he previously used to get from a prison van to the courtroom. He walked in, apparently upbeat and in a combative mood though he wore braces on his back and neck - treatment for spinal problems he claims was caused by a beating by police.

Anwar joked with supporters and chatted with his wife, opposition leader Aziza Ismail, before telling reporters he expected to lose the appeal because the judges would not give him a fair hearing.

"It's a forgone conclusion," Anwar said. "You can see it in the demeanor of the judges." About 100 Anwar supporters held up banners and chanted anti-government slogans at the courthouse, as police looked on.

'Flawed' trial

The appeal is to decide whether Anwar's sodomy trial is flawed - as many rights groups and international observers believe. Anwar has also asked to be released on bail while the hearing proceeds.

"I have no confidence in all of you ... I see no point in proceeding if this will be a foregone conclusion. This is a facade of a fair trial"

Anwar Ibrahim,
Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister

If the judges reject the sodomy appeal, Anwar's only hope of release before the sentence expires in 2009 is if Prime Minister Abd Allah Ahmad Badawi asks the king to grant him a pardon.

Fernando said Abd Al-Hamid and another judge, Tengku Baharuddin Shah, whom he claimed lacked sufficient experience, should withdraw from the case.

Government lawyers said there was no need for any of the judges to stand down.
 
Abd Allah succeeded Mahathir last year and won a landslide election victory in March, promising to restore respect for the public service and judiciary.

Anwar supporters say Abd Allah's treatment of Anwar's case is a test of his promise of clean government and have urged him to free Anwar. Abd Allah says he must respect the original verdict.

"He is still hiding behind the courts," Anwar said of Abd Allah. "That's how all tyrants operate."