Ibrahim moves to disqualify judge in sodomy case

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim moved today to have the judge in his sodomy trial disqualified.

The trial, which Anwar says is a plot to end his political career, began last week with a graphic testimony from a 24-year-old former aide Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan who accuses Anwar of sodomising him. Anwar has complained the judge presiding over the trial has refused to rein in the media.

Anwar, who was jailed on separate sodomy and corruption charges a decade ago in a case widely seen as politically motivated, said in a statement to the High Court there was a “real danger of bias” on the part of the judge. Defence lawyers objected on Friday when Utusan Malaysia, a Malay-language daily linked to the government, ran photographs of the court’s closed-door visit to the apartment where the sexual encounter allegedly took place. Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah refused a request to admonish the daily over the pictures, as well as an earlier headline that said “not willing to be sodomised again,” which the defence said suggested they had sex more than once.

“The local media has condemned me as they did in 1998 without (giving me a) chance to listen to my reply,” the 62-year-old opposition leader told reporters. “Clearly it’s a political trial.” The judge adjourned the trial until Tuesday when he plans to hear the application to remove him from the proceedings. However, the defence has lost several earlier legal manoeuvres including a bid to strike out the case, and to force the prosecution to release evidence including medical reports and closed-circuit TV footage.

Anwar has said that the charges, which carry a penalty of 20 years imprisonment, are an attempt to end his political career and neutralise the threat he poses to the Barisan Nasional coalition government. Malaysia also hit out at foreign governments for interfering in the trial, which is being watched by Western nations whose diplomats have attended the hearings.

“They are welcome to follow Anwar’s trial as closely as they want but they must observe our laws and not meddle in our internal affairs by hurling all sorts of accusations,” Deputy Foreign Minister A Kohilan Pillay told AFP.

“The case has only just begun so these foreign countries should please leave it to Malaysia’s judges to decide rather than creating their own trial by making damaging comments about our system.”

Kohilan did not single out any nation for criticism but the government-linked New Straits Times reported on a speech to Australia’s parliament by Michael Danby, chairman of its sub-committee on foreign affairs.

“The Malaysian legal system is being manipulated by supporters of the incumbent government to drive… Anwar Ibrahim out of national politics,” Danby told parliament last week.“Perverting the legal system for political ends by charging Anwar with sexual offences is an affront to human rights,” he added.

Anwar, a married father-of-six, was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 amid a power struggle with the premier at the time, Mahathir Mohamad and spent six years in jail before his sex conviction was overturned.

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