The International Commission of Jurists today expressed deep concern over the ruling of the Federal Court upholding the conviction on “sodomy charges” of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim by the Court of Appeal under the colonial-era Section 377B of the Penal Code.
The decision today was on the final appeal against the March 2014 decision of the Court of Appeal, which overturned the 2012 High Court’s decision to acquit Anwar Ibrahim of “sodomy charges”.
The ICJ has called on Malaysia to repeal Section 377B, which criminalises consensual same-sex relations.
The Federal Court also upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision to sentence Anwar to five years’ imprisonment.
“It is clear from the decision of the Federal Court today that the Government of Malaysia has once again inappropriately used Section 377B of the Penal Code against its political opponents,” said Justice Elizabeth Evatt, Commissioner of the ICJ who was in Putrajaya to observe the proceedings.
“This is deplorable, especially since Section 377B criminalises consensual same-sex relations and thereby violates a range of international law and standards, including on the rights to privacy, non-discrimination and equal protection,” she added.
This relic of British law has long since been abandoned in the United Kingdom, but is still in force in Malaysia.
However, in the last few years, it has only been used against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The conviction today amounts to the second sodomy conviction for Anwar Ibrahim within the past 14 years.
His first conviction in August 2000 resulted in an imprisonment term of nine years. That decision was overturned by the Federal Court in September 2004.
The ICJ recalls that such “sodomy” charges cannot be considered recognisable criminal offences under international human rights law and standards.
“The criminalisation of consensual same-sex conduct is in contravention of a number of human rights, including the right to dignity; equality before the law and equal protection of the law; non-discrimination; liberty and security of person; privacy; opinion and expression; association and peaceful assembly,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, who also observed the hearings.
“Anwar Ibrahim should never have been investigated, charged with, tried, let alone convicted of and sentenced for such charges. The confirmation of his conviction and sentencing on these charges are an affront to human rights and the rule law,” she added.
The ICJ also noted with concern that the right to a fair trial of Anwar Ibrahim was violated in a number of respects, particularly his right to be presumed innocent.
Under international law, a person charged with committing a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. Hence, this imposes upon the prosecution the burden to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
“In this case, however, it appeared that the Court of Appeal adopted an approach wherein the burden was on Anwar Ibrahim to prove that he had a credible defence, rather than raising reasonable doubt as to the prosecution’s case,” Justice Evatt said.
The ICJ says that by dismissing the final appeal of Anwar Ibrahim, the Federal Court has in effect adopted the same approach of the Court of Appeal to these issues.
This decision is a clear setback for the rule of law in Malaysia and is incompatible with the presumption of innocence principle, the Geneva-based organisation adds.
Anwar Ibrahim has now exhausted all avenues of appeal and has immediately begun serving his sentence.
The ICJ observed the hearings in this case before the Court of Appeal in September 2013, February 2014, and March 2014, and before the Federal Court from 28 to 30 October 2014.
Elisabeth Evatt, a former judge of the Australian Federal Court and Commissioner of the ICJ, acted as the trial observer on behalf of the ICJ at the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court.