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Article 11: Right to presumption of innocence until proven guilty at public trial with all guarantees necessary for defence

  • In 1999 and 2000, Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and leader of a popular pro-reform movement, was been sentenced to a total of 15 years in prison a trial widely seen as politically-motivated.
  • Arrested in 1998 for allegedly promoting insurrection against the state, whilst under arrest he faced additional charges of corruption and sodomy.
  • The court procedures have been widely criticised by the international community and human rights organisations.
  • Mr Ibrahim has continued to appeal against his convictions but has so far had no success - in January 2004 Malaysia’s Court Of Appeal refused to grant him bail for medical treatment.

Political Context

The former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, is currently serving a total of 15 years after being given a six-year sentence for corruption and abuse of power in 1999 and a nine-year sentence for sodomy in 2000.

His supporters maintain that he did not receive a fair trial. They believe he is a victim of a political conspiracy designed to prevent him challenging the rule of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad after his dismissal in 1998 over a difference in economic policy.

Anwar had been a protege of Dr Mahathir.

Symbol of Reform

Disagreements with Dr Mahathir led Anwar to become the symbol of a popular pro-reform movement known as 'reformasi.'

The movement has sought to offer an alternative to both the secular authoritarianism of Dr Mahathir and the strict Islamism that is growing more popular in the region.

Anwar was arrested for the first time in 1998 soon after he addressed the largest anti-government rally ever held in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

He was initially detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for allegedly promoting insurrection against the state.

Amnesty International claims that the ISA is often employed by Dr Mahathir to crush peaceful opposition. At least 105 people are being detained under the ISA, including Anwar supporters as well as minority Shi'a Muslims and youth leaders in the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party.

Unfair trial

The conduct of the Anwar case fell short of international fair trial standards and raised concerns about the administration of justice in Malaysia.

In particular, following his arrest in September 1998, Anwar was allegedly beaten by police. Pictures of the accused politician with a black eye and bruises appeared after his first night in police detention and contributed to concern that he was not being treated fairly.

Subsequently his right to be presumed innocent was undermined by statements by the Prime Minister, and his counsel was prevented from presenting a full defence by threats of contempt of court proceedings.

Anwar's own lawyer Karpal Singh found himself charged with sedition and contempt of court.

When the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union criticised the court procedures, the Malaysian government countered that no country should interfere in the judicial process of another country.

Struggle to Appeal

Since his sentencing, Anwar has fought against both his convictions in an ongoing battle with the Malaysian courts.

Some felt that with the end of Mahathir Mohamad’s Premiership in 2003, and his succession by Abdullah Badawi, Anwar’s chances of release would have improved.

However, in January 2004 he was refused an application for bail by the court of appeal. Anwar called the judges “spineless.”

He now must turn to Malaysia’s highest judicial authority, the federal court, to continue his case.