An Australian legal observer at Malaysia’s highest court has criticised the sentencing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in jail on a sodomy charge, saying judges rejected or ignored key evidence.
Mark Trowell, QC, says the shock decision of the Federal Court on Tuesday to uphold a conviction against Mr Anwar “was unconvincing and lacked a detailed analysis of the facts”.
“In reaching these conclusions the court rejected or ignored the evidence that raised serious doubts about the reliability of so-called independence evidence and the credibility of the complainant,” he said.
Mr Trowell’s comments follow harsh international reaction to the jailing of 67-year-old Mr Anwar, a former deputy prime minister and rising star among Asia’s political leaders who has been the target of a decades-long legal vendetta and smear campaign by his political enemies in the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).
Mr Trowell, a Perth barrister who observed the court for the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union, LAWASIA and the Law Council of Australia, said it is for Malaysians to judge what the decision says about the country’s judicial system.
But he pointed to a statement by the country’s lawyers through Malaysia’s Bar Council that referred to “glaring anomalies” in the case that fuel the perception that Mr Anwar had been persecuted and not prosecuted.
Mr Trowell said the court’s treatment of issues affecting the credibility of the complainant, Mohammad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23 year-old former aid to Mr Anwar, was “superficial,” touching only a few issues while ignoring others that were more substantial, including Mr Saiful having had an affair with a member of the prosecution team during the trial, which raised the potential for collaboration between them.
Another issue that was ignored, he said, was a meeting Mr Saiful had with prime minister Najib Razak and senior police only days before the alleged incident in 2008 “which raised the prospect of collusion against Anwar”.
Mr Trowell, who has written a book on the case called Sodomy II, said Australian forensic experts David Wells and Brian McDonald had raised serious concerns about DNA evidence that the judges used to prove the act of sodomy.
“Each expert was also critical of how the government chemists interpreted the results, given the known history of the samples,” he said.
Mr Trowell has detailed numerous conflicts and contradictions in the case that he said should have been enough to raise a sufficient doubt.
“For these reasons, it is my view that, if the court had proper regard to the facts and the law, Anwar Ibrahim should never have been convicted,” he said.
Mr Anwar’s jailing is seen as having ended the political career of the charismatic father of six, who held together a fragile opposition alliance that won the popular vote at elections in 2013 but could not form a government because of a rural gerrymander that favours the ruling coalition.
When released from jail he will be banned from politics for another five years.
Malaysia’s government and prosecutors in the case against Mr Anwar have defended the decision, arguing it upheld the country’s rule of law.
But the US State Department condemned Malaysia’s judiciary, saying “the decision to prosecute Mr Anwar, and his trial, have raised serious concerns regarding the rule of law and independence of the courts.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described her government as disappointed and deeply concerned by the ruling.
Since the verdict, Malaysian authorities have acted swiftly to stifle dissent, using a draconian sedition law to arrest popular cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, better known as Zunar.