KUALA LUMPUR – A Malaysian court on Friday sentenced opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in prison on sodomy charges, overturning an earlier acquittal and throwing his political career into jeopardy.
An angry Anwar vowed to appeal to the country’s highest court. He accused Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government of orchestrating his conviction and warned that it “faces the wrath of the people.”
The court said Anwar could remain free on bail during the appeal. Anwar, 66, is the most potent threat to Najib, whose party has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957. Najib’s popular support has weakened over the last two elections. If Anwar loses the appeal, he will have to give up his seat in parliament and go to prison. He would also be disqualified from contesting any elections for five years after his release.
The conviction means that Anwar will be unable to run for a seat in Selangor, one of four states that are ruled by the opposition, this month. He was expected to take over as chief minister of Selangor, boosting the opposition, if he had won the election. Sodomy, even when consensual, is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The United States and international human rights groups called the legal moves against Anwar politically motivated.
“In this high-profile case, it’s critical for Malaysia to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy and judiciary,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Anwar was accused of sodomizing a male aide in 2008 but was acquitted by the High Court in 2012. The government appealed that decision.