Malaysian opposition leader speaks of “archaic” sodomy laws during trial

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The former Deputy Prime Minister and current Leader of the Opposition in Malaysia has spoken of the “archaic” and “unjust” sodomy laws under which he is standing trial.

Anwar Ibrahim, who is married with six children, is accused of engaging in sodomy with an aide in 2008. As a verdict nears, he insists the act never took place, and says the law could be “abused to show violent discrimination or intolerance”.

In an interview with AP, he said: “Our present laws are deemed to be rather archaic. The whole idea (should be) to encourage people to understand, not to be seen to be so punitive. In this case it’s worse; you can go and probe and peep into people’s bedrooms just to try to smear them.”

Anwar faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted. Corporal punishment by whipping is reported to have been ruled out on account of his age.

The politician was first imprisoned for corruption and sodomy charges in 1999.

Though the sodomy charge was later overturned and he was freed in 2004 after completing the corruption sentence, but under Malaysian law was unable to engage in national politics again until 14 April 2008.

He was then arrested in the summer of 2008 after Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old aide, claimed he had been sexually assaulted.

The former Deputy Prime Minister was charged under the country’s consensual sodomy laws as officials believed he could not have physically forced the alleged victim into such an act. The aide was not charged as he had made the report and the trial began in February 2010.

Last month, Human Rights Watch called for the law to be repealed, claiming the state was trying to “slander” Anwar with the anti-gay laws.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Malaysian government uses its outdated sodomy law to slander political opponents and critics.

“Whether or not Anwar Ibrahim engaged in consensual ‘sodomy’ is irrelevant. It’s time to reject this law and end the farcical political theater that promotes discrimination based on sexual orientation and destroys people’s lives.”

The recent report by the UN high commissioner for human rights, to be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2012, recommends that all member states “repeal laws used to criminalize individuals on grounds of homosexuality for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct”.

In 2010, 50 Australian lawmakers reportedly signed a letter to the Malaysian government calling on it to drop the charges against Anwar.

At that time, the Prime Minister, Najib Razak, said Wisma Putra, the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, would be “handling” an explanation of the realities of the situation to the Australians.