Following a polarizing two-year trial, a Malaysian court acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy charges Monday, saying the DNA evidence was unreliable, the Associated Press reported.
An aide accused Anwar of engaging in sodomy with him in 2010. The acquittal could help Anwar’s political comeback ahead of an expected election this year.
It may also point to reform in a country where sex between males is punishable by 20 years in prison and whipping with a rattan cane.
An officials with Human Rights Watch said the case was “politically motivated.” It also marked the first time a senior Malaysian politician has spoken out against the country’s sodomy laws. When the aide first brought the charges against him, Anwar publicly denounced the “archaic” laws, saying they promoted intolerance, an encroachment on people’s privacy and unduly harsh punishments.
The AP reports that politicians in Malaysia usually avoid making statements about gay rights so as not to upset religious conservatives. And often, politicians make very public statements against it.
In 2001, for example, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the country would deport any visiting foreign diplomats who are gay. Four years later, the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) declared it would never accept homosexuals into its ranks. And in 2010, the Malaysian Film Censorship Board said it would allow depiction of homosexual characters, provided the characters repent or die.
There has been some defiance of these laws in recent years, including a film released in March that featured gay lead characters, and the spread of a blog authored by a gay Royal Malaysia Navy officer.
Monday’s acquittal seems to mark another defiance, and a very public one at that.
“Justice has been done. I am vindicated,” Anwar said Monday, smiling as he addressed thousands of people outside Kuala Lumpur's High Court.
“Reformasi!” many shouted in return. The word means reform.
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