UN Panel Calls for ‘Immediate Release’ of Malaysian Politician

Hata Wahari

2015-11-01
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151101_MY-UN_ANWAR_620.jpg Supporters of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim call for his release from prison, outside a court complex in Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 17, 2015.
AFP

Updated at 5:04 p.m. ET on 2015-11-02

Malaysia’s deputy home minister on Monday rebuffed a U.N. panel’s report that called for jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's immediate release and said he may have been mistreated in prison.

“The group had no right to question the decisions of the Malaysian legal system,” Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed told parliament.

"Respect the decisions of the courts. The government has been doing whatever is needed to make sure Anwar is always healthy and he also gets the proper treatment, '' he added.

At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Monday morning, Anwar’s international legal team released an opinion by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which ruled that Anwar’s “deprivation of liberty” was “arbitrary.”

"Taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the Working Group considers that the adequate remedy would be to release Mr. Ibrahim immediately, and ensure that his political rights that were removed based on his arbitrary detention be reinstated,” it said.

The five-member working group under the U.N. Human Rights Council consists of experts from Australia, Benin, Mexico, South Korea, and Ukraine.

Based on evidence at its disposal, the panel concluded that Anwar did not receive a fair trial, and that the sodomy charges against him were “politically motivated."

"Taken together, these factors provide a persuasive body of evidence, which was not contested by the Government, that Mr. Ibrahim has been specifically targeted by the Malaysian authorities," the panel’s opinion said.

Anwar's legal team said Malaysia must abide by the findings of the group, whose mandate is to consider and render opinions about alleged cases of arbitrary detention.

"The Government of Malaysia held a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council from 2006-2009, and 2010-2013. It must abide by this opinion and its recommendations."

Government has no power over courts: officials

Later, the prime minister’s office issued a statement in which it called on “all parties, including those overseas, to respect [the] legal process, the judgment of Malaysia’s courts and the rights of the victim to seek justice.”

“The final verdict in this case was reached by the courts after exhaustive and comprehensive legal process had been followed over many years. The Federal Court judges will have upheld the Court of Appeal’s guilty verdict only after considering all the evidence,” the PM’s office said.

“Malaysia has an independent judiciary – with many rulings going against senior government figures – and the government does not have the power or authority to overrule the decisions of the courts,” it said.

Anwar, the former leader of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, is eight months into a five-year prison sentence for sodomy. Many rights groups assert that his prosecution was politically motivated and aimed at removing a political threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak's government.

The U.N. Human Rights office, the United States and several other countries had earlier expressed disappointment over his jailing.

Mistreated?

The U.N. opinion released Monday also voiced concern over allegations that Anwar was still being held in solitary confinement.

“The Working Group considers it appropriate to refer the allegations regarding the treatment of Mr. Ibrahim during his term of imprisonment to the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment for appropriate action,” the opinion said.

A statement released by Anwar’s legal team quoted his daughter, MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, as expressing gratitude to the U.N. panel for calling for his release.

“Its strong stance in solidarity with my father sends a clear and unequivocal message to Prime Minister Najib Razak, and ensures that the sharp decline in human rights under his administration will not go unnoticed,” she said.

Anwar was deputy prime minister of Malaysia from 1993-98, and a founder of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), one of three parties in the Pakatan Rakyat coalition.

The sodomy case dates to 2008 when a political aide to Anwar alleged that the two had had consensual sex. Anwar was acquitted in 2012 due to what the court said was a lack of evidence, but a government Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal, and Anwar lost his final appeal in February 2015.

The current incarceration is the second for Anwar, who was imprisoned from 1998 to 2004 on a separate sodomy charge. That conviction was overturned, and Anwar returned to politics, leading the Pakatan Rakyat coalition to win 52 percent of the popular vote in Malaysia’s 2013 general election.

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