Friday, November 7, 2008

Judge sets Anwar Ibrahim free

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim scored a legal victory Friday, his lawyer said, as a judge struck down the government's bid to shift his sodomy trial to a higher court.

Anwar fears the government will be able to manipulate the case more easily at the High Court, said lawyer Sankara Nair who hailed the ruling by a lower court judge as "courageous".

"We are very happy... this is rather refreshing that a judge has been able to make a decision professionally and judicially," Sankara told AFP.

"My client fears there will be judge-fixing, and there is good reason to fear that because we've been there before," he said of Anwar's trials a decade ago which saw him convicted of sodomy and corruption.

Those decisions were widely seen as politically motivated, and there has been a furore over the latest sodomy allegations against Anwar who says the government is trying to prevent him from seizing power.

Anwar, who is married and the father of six children, has rejected the allegations levelled by 23-year-old former aide Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan who said he was sodomised in June.

The charges emerged after March general elections which saw Anwar's opposition alliance make huge gains, securing a third of parliamentary seats and five states in the ruling coalition's worst ever performance.

Anwar has said he has enough support from defecting lawmakers to seize power, but failed to meet a self-imposed September deadline to topple the coalition which has ruled for half a century.

Sankara said the government was very likely to appeal Friday's decision by Sessions Court judge Komathy Suppiah, but that if it does not intervene, the lower court will on November 14 set a date to begin the trial. -- Agence France-Presse - 11/7/2008 9:53 AM GMT

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