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Malaysia court delays hearing on transfer of Anwar sodomy trial

[JURIST] A Malaysian court on Wednesday set a September 24 hearing date [Bernama report] for arguments over approval of an application to transfer of sodomy charges [JURIST report] against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] to a Malaysian High Court. After the hearing, Anwar characterized the move by Malaysian prosecutors to transfer the proceedings as a "trial by ambush" [New Straits Times report], while his defense lawyers called the transfer issue a delaying tactic. The application seeking the transfer of the case was signed by a Malaysian Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, who is being sued by Anwar relating to his 1998 arrest on similar sodomy charges. Anwar pleaded not guilty last month to sodomy charges [JURIST report] based on allegations by a former aide. Anwar has denied the accusations, saying that they are part of a government campaign to upset his political aspirations, including a parliamentary by-election he won [BBC report] last month. Human rights groups have also questioned the timing of the charges. Human Rights Watch Asia [advocacy website] Thursday called for the government to drop the charges [press release], while Amnesty International [advocacy website] described the allegations as "politically motivated" [press release]. Under Malaysian law, sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison regardless of consent. Anwar filed a lawsuit against his accuser [JURIST report] in late June. From Malaysia, The Star has more. AFP has additional coverage.

The political focus on the sodomy charges intensified last month, when a bill was introduced in the Malaysian parliament that would require all criminal suspects to submit DNA samples [JURIST report]. The proposed legislation was seen as an attempt to intervene in the Anwar case. Malaysian authorities briefly arrested Anwar in July, less than a day after a warrant was issued for his arrest [JURIST reports]. Last week, Anwar released a medical report [PDF text and explanation; JURIST report] that he said refuted the sodomy allegations. Anwar was Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister under former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad [BBC profile] until he was fired in 1998 following earlier sodomy charges of which he was initially convicted but later acquitted. He only recently reentered Malaysian politics following the expiration of a ten-year ban [JURIST report] against him for unrelated corruption charges. Last month the Federal Court of Malaysia ruled he could challenge the constitutionality [JURIST report] of his original dismissal from office.

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