Malaysia’s Anwar Found Guilty
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was convicted of corruption and sentenced to six years in prison today in a landmark verdict expected to change the face of Malaysian politics.
High Court Judge Augustine Paul found Anwar guilty on all four corruption charges. Paul, judge and jury during the seven-month trial, sentenced Anwar to six years on each charge, with the terms to be served concurrently.
There were gasps in the courtroom when the sentence was read. The term was longer than most had anticipated and effectively bars Anwar from politics for at least five years after his release from prison.
Anwar turned to reporters in the courtroom, shrugged and said, ``Are you surprised? I’m not.″
``My body may be incarcerated, but my soul is free,″ he said.
His eldest daughter, 18-year-old Nurul Izzah, sobbed quietly, while the youngest of his six children, Nurul Hana, 6, smiled shyly as Anwar picked her up.
``I will miss my family, especially the little one,″ he said.
Azizah Ismail, Anwar’s wife and now the leader of his political reform movement, fought tears as she spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.
``We’ve been trained to hope that a struggle requires sacrifice,″ she said. ``Our family is sad. My children are deprived of their father. But we don’t regret. We feel proud with my husband’s stand and the principle we all fight for.″
Soon after the verdict was read, thousands of supporters took to the streets, chanting ``reformasi,″ the Malay word for reform and Anwar’s political rally cry.
Riot police lobbed tear gas and beat dozens of demonstrators with batons. Protesters brought part of downtown Kuala Lumpur to a standstill as they rampaged down the capital’s streets, lighting bonfires, hurling rocks at police and smashing car windows.
At least one person was hospitalized, and police said 18 people were arrested.
Anwar’s successor, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, appealed for calm: ``Today a decision was made, and it was a court decision. So we have to just accept it.″
By nightfall, the capital had returned to calm.
Anwar, 51, finance minister since 1991 and deputy prime minister since 1993 until his was fired in September, still faces another corruption charge and five counts of sodomy.
During the trial, which opened Nov. 2 and ran for 78 days, Paul listened to 23 prosecution witnesses and 22 from the defense.
The state argued that Anwar was a corrupt adulterer who abused his office by demanding that police cover up his sexual misdeeds.
A mattress said to be used during his sexual trysts was dragged into court and key witnesses testified that he had sex with women and men; his former driver said he was Anwar’s ``sex slave.″
The defense argued Anwar was a devout Muslim innocent of all charges and the victim of a political conspiracy to eliminate his challenge to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s 18-year leadership.
Anwar stood up in court today and insisted that be allowed to speak, a request that the judge consented to only grudgingly.
``Right from the beginning, I had no hope whatsoever that I would be tried fairly,″ Anwar said. ``All the instruments of government _ including the attorney general’s office, the police and the judiciary _ are under the prime minister’s thumb.″
Paul repeatedly interrupted Anwar and told him to sit down.
Later Anwar accused the judge of bias, saying his ruling ``stinks to high heaven.″
Paul responded calmly: ``In this judgment, I’m answerable to God. That’s why I wrote 394 pages. I did it with great prayers.″
Anwar’s lawyers said they would appeal.
The conviction could make Anwar a martyr from behind bars. He has already become a rallying point for the fragmented opposition groups challenging Mahathir’s rule. The main Islamic opposition party has said it would support Anwar’s wife Azizah if she were to challenge Mahathir’s seat in Parliament.
Azizah and an opposition coalition of 20 political groups planned to meet later today to map a strategy.
Days after his firing on Sept. 2, Anwar launched a nationwide tour calling for Mahathir’s resignation. From initial crowds of several hundred people in his backyard, Anwar mobilized tens of thousands within two weeks.
For the first time ever, citizens in the typically placid Southeast Asian nation gathered more than 30,000-strong at the capital’s National Mosque and the main square on Sept. 20.
Police arrested Anwar that night, beat him until he was near death, brought him to court nine days later with a black eye and charged him with 10 counts of corruption and illegal sex.
International and local human rights groups who had been following the case condemned the verdict.
Amnesty International said in a statement from its London headquarters that the charges against Anwar were a ``pretext to remove him from further participation in public life,″ and called him a prisoner of conscience.