KUALA LUMPUR – Parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia today reiterated calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, 1,000 days since the former Malaysian opposition leader was sent to prison after his conviction and five-year jail sentence were upheld by Malaysia’s highest court.
In a statement today, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said Anwar’s case exemplified a trend of intensified government persecution against critical voices in Malaysia, which they said had continued in the years since his jailing and remains a serious concern, particularly with parliamentary elections on the horizon.
The regional lawmakers urged Malaysian authorities to cease judicial harassment and other forms of intimidation against opposition members and government critics, and repeal or amend existing legislation restricting fundamental freedoms.
APHR board member Teddy Baguilat, a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, said Anwar’s conviction flew in the face of international legal standards and seriously undermined the credibility of Malaysia’s justice system, demonstrating the extent to which the courts have been used as tools of an executive agenda.
“Anwar has already spent 1,000 days too many behind bars and should be immediately freed,” said Baguilat.
“From the beginning, this case was about silencing opposition voices and making it more difficult to challenge the government.
It’s a trend we’ve been seeing intensify across the region, and it signals even darker days ahead for human rights in ASEAN,” he added.
In February 2015, the Federal Court upheld a 2014 decision by the Court of Appeal to convict Anwar on charges of “sodomy” under Section 377 of the Malaysian Penal Code and sentence him to five years in prison.
APHR said the case, which bore all the hallmarks of being politically motivated, was indicative of the persistent human rights challenges Malaysia faces, particularly in upholding the rights of individuals who criticise the ruling government.
“These laws have been repeatedly abused by the authorities for political ends and have no place in a country that’s hoping to bolster its regional leadership credentials within ASEAN,” Baguilat said.
The regional MPs argued that the continued persecution of opposition voices in Malaysia threatens the credibility of the next round of parliamentary elections, which must take place before the end of August 2018, and emphasised the need to allow for an environment conducive of free expression and genuine, inclusive competition in advance of the polls.
Baguilat said Malaysia’s leaders must embrace the virtues of a strong, vibrant opposition.
“They must recognise that dissenting voices represent an integral part of the democratic process, rather than a threat.
“Releasing political prisoners — including Anwar — would send a strong message that Malaysia’s government intends to respect its commitments to due process and free and fair elections,” Baguilat added.
Meanwhile, Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah Anwar who is Lembah Pantai MP and member of APHR, also urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to free her father. She highlighted concerns about treatment needed for medical conditions, which have worsened since his detention in 2015.
“After 1,000 days of incarceration, Prime Minister Najib has an opportunity to reverse course and lean in toward democracy by facilitating Anwar’s deserved pardon for the simple fact of his innocence and unjust trial.
“If this is too much, we hope at least that a modicum of mercy and patriotism can inspire the Prime Minister to allow Anwar, unfettered access to proper medical care, even if only available outside Malaysia,” Nurul Izzah said.