Updated: 03/06/2014 15:41 | By Agence France-Presse

Malaysia's Anwar back in court over sodomy acquittal

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim returned to court Thursday for a government appeal against his sodomy acquittal, putting at risk his bid to contest an important state by-election.

Malaysia's Anwar back in court over sodomy acquittal

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim delivers a speech during a lecture hosted by Japan's Sasakawa Peace Foundation in Tokyo on February 27, 2014 - by Kazuhiro Nogi

The 66-year-old veteran politician, who was cleared in 2012 of having sex with a young male former aide, slammed the appeal, saying it was a political ploy to tarnish his image in the conservative Muslim-majority nation.

"There is absolutely no case for them. This is clearly seen to be political," Anwar told AFP in the packed Court of Appeal in the country's administrative capital of Putrajaya.

A rights group described the government appeal as a "travesty of justice." 

Anwar plans to contest a seat in the central state of Selangor surrounding the capital on March 23.

He is expected to win and subsequently take over the powerful post of state chief minister, in an attempt to boost his political career and restore unity in his party.

But his lawyer Karpal Singh said any Appeals Court conviction before the state election would bar him from running for the seat.

A verdict is however unlikely before March 23. If the court finds Anwar guilty after the by-election, it will not immediately affect his position until the highest court rules on the case.

"I hope the judiciary will maintain its independence (to uphold the acquittal)," Anwar told reporters. 

Government lawyer Shafee Abdullah said a lower court judge had erred in freeing Anwar.

"The appeal has got to be allowed. The respondent must be found guilty," he told the court.

The defence has unsuccessfully sought to disqualify Shafee and maintains that DNA evidence was compromised.

In his earlier ruling, a Kuala Lumpur High Court judge said controversial DNA evidence submitted by the prosecution was unreliable.

Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan accused Anwar in 2008 of having had sex with him.

Sodomy is illegal in Malaysia and punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

Anwar has denied the charges as a political ploy intended to send him to jail and damage his reputation after opposition gains in 2008 elections.

It is not the first time the former deputy premier has faced sodomy charges.

In 1998 he was sacked from the number two post in the ruling party by then-ruling strongman Mahathir Mohamad, and jailed on sodomy and corruption charges.

The sodomy charge was later overturned, and he was released from prison in 2004 to take over the opposition, posing the first real challenge to the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition which has ruled since independence in 1957.

In elections in May last year, the opposition lost again. It alleged that fraud in marginal seats swayed the result and cost it an historic victory.

The government has dismissed all the allegations.

Rights groups urged Malaysia to drop the appeal.

"Today's continuation of this travesty of justice marks a new low in (Prime Minister Najib Razak's) selective persecution of his political opponents," Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said in a statement.

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