Q&A: Anwar optimistic prior to conviction being upheld

Malaysia opposition leader “cautiously optimistic” ahead of ruling affirming his conviction and jail term for sodomy.

Malaysia''s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim speaks to the media ahead of the verdict in his final appeal against a conviction for sodomy in Kuala Lumpur
Ibrahim has maintained the case is politically motivated, a charge the government denies [File pic]

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim has said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the country’s highest court will decide on Tuesday to acquit him of sodomy.

The case has been going through the courts since 2008 when the opposition leader was charged with sodomy with a male aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

Anwar, 67, was acquitted of the charge by the High Court in 2012, but the Court of Appeal overturned that decision in March last year

If the five Federal Court judges uphold the decision, Anwar, will lose his seat as a member of parliament and be banned from politics, dealing a major blow to his Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

The prosecution has also asked that the court increase the length of the sentence from five years to as long as ten years.

Sodomy, a crime in Malaysia, carries a maximum jail term of 20 years as well as whipping.

Anwar has always maintained the case is politically motivated, a charge the government denies.

He was first charged with sodomy in 1998 at the height of the Asian Financial Crisis, after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sacked his then deputy from the government triggering unprecedented street protests.

Appearing in court with a black eye after being beaten in police custody, Anwar was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. The conviction was overturned on appeal in 2004.

Al Jazeera spoke to Anwar about the risk of going to jail and the prospects for Pakatan Rakyat.

Al Jazeera: How are you feeling ahead of Tuesday’s decision?

Anwar Ibrahim: The advantage of the conduct of the judges in the Federal Court is that for the first time in 16 years I was given a full avenue to express [my case]. Our lawyers presented the case and that is mass education. People follow the evidence and the facts. I’m cautiously optimistic, but I’m also realistic. I’m mentally, spiritually and physically prepared to return to jail.

AJ: There was some criticism that you didn’t provide testimony in court. What was your reason for not testifying?

AI: We weren’t even entitled to documents or evidence. After such a protracted battle just to get a witness statement, why did I have to submit myself? It’s a criminal case. The prosecution has to prove their case beyond any reasonable doubt. They say the burden of proof is on Anwar – that’s what the Court of Appeal said. [But] read the statement from the dock. It’s also a damning critique of the judiciary and their conduct.

AJ: Pakatan has had its fair share of disagreements over the past year or so. How confident are you the coalition can stick together in the event that you’re jailed?

AI: We just had a very successful meeting. That meeting reaffirmed our commitment to Pakatan, to our common principles and our common agenda. The contentious issues are being recognised. It was a major breakthrough. All party leaders were present.

AJ: So, even if you’re not around, the coalition will continue?

AI: Yes. There’s a mechanism in place. What to do, when to meet, who’s in charge, whether there’s a rotation. Things like this have been resolved. Of course, there are problems with one or two personalities within the leadership, but the Secretariat is effective, the economic team is working together [and] at the different levels there’s this pressure from the younger leadership to say we don’t want these squabbles.

AJ: Many Malaysians are facing economic hardship. Do you think the opposition should really be focussing on ‘bread and butter issues’ rather than fighting over Hudud [the Islamic penal code] or local elections?

AI: I’ve always said we have a major problem with the economy; a major headache. In fact, we have an economic crisis brewing. The ringgit, oil prices, billions [of dollars] in additional costs because of the flood relief, the three planes – all these, directly or indirectly, affect the state. The latest figures indicate growing inequality, which is the main thrust of our economic programme. I have less than 20 hours as a free man in the event that I go to prison but, still, my focus is not just 10 February or Anwar, it’s about the gross injustices to so many people. We took up these issues. What if I remained silent, not necessarily supporting the government but staying silent? They won’t touch you. I’m innocent. The intention, of course, is to cause maximum political damage. [To] say, ‘he’s morally unfit.’

AJ: The cases against you have been going on for a long time.

AI: “For 16 years! It must have cost millions of dollars. Can you imagine? In any independent court of law they would have thrown out the case long ago.

AJ: How is your family coping with all of this?

AI: It’s not easy for them. My granddaughter asked me recently, ‘Papa, why do these bad men want to send you to jail?’ I’m very fortunate that I have a great family. Azizah (Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Anwar’s wife) is a source of strength. Despite the facade of fragility she is a lady of principle; very committed to these ideals. It’s a small price I have to pay in my struggle for freedom and justice for all Malaysians. Whether it’s five years or ten it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I have to fight them, of course. They can give me 20 years. I don’t give a damn.

Source: Al Jazeera