More legal challenges for Malaysian opposition leader

KUALA LUMPUR - Legal challenges are mounting for Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, with a former aide filing a civil suit just four months after an appeal court overturned a high court dismissal of a sodomy case against him.

Sodomy, even if consensual, is a crime in Muslim Malaysia and punishable by a jail term up to 20 years.

In the case, filed at the end of June but only made public Wednesday, Mohammad Saiful -- a special assistant to Anwar from March to June 2008 and aged 22 years old at the time -- said that repeated statements by Ibrahim that he had lied in the sodomy case has caused him "physical pain and suffering" which had led to depression.

He is now demanding $15.6 million from Ibrahim for the alleged initial act and for injuring his reputation by his public statements.

Members of Anwar's People Justice Party (PKR) see the lawsuit as the latest attempt by the current government, led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, to smear Ibrahim’s reputation.

"It is the continuing harassment by Saiful and the people behind him who are the political enemies of Anwar [Ibrahim]," William Leong Jee Keen, a PKR member of parliament, told the Anadolu Agency Wednesday.

The case has been running for some time. Ibrahim, a charismatic politician, was accused of sodomy by Saiful shortly after he led the opposition in 2008 to its best performance in parliamentary elections since independence from Great Britain in 1957.

The opposition won the majority of the votes, but less than half of the seats because of the way the electoral system was organized.

A high court acquitted Ibrahim in 2012 citing manipulation of DNA samples that tainted the evidence. But last March, an appeal court overturned the judgment and sentenced Anwar to five years in jail. Anwar has appealed the sentence and the Federal Court is expected to fix a date Thursday for Anwar’s first hearing.

"As the criminal case is coming to an end, they want to continue to affect Anwar’s image with this civil case," said Leong. "[Even though] the high court has already said that Mohammed Saiful was not a credible character."

Barely two weeks after the March appeal court decision, the three-party opposition coalition led by Ibrahim’s PKR party made further inroads in parliamentary elections, increasing its share by seven seats and putting the United Malay National Organization, the governing party since independence, on edge.

But in recent months, the opposition coalition has been weakened by internal disputes mostly between the multiracial PKR and the Malay Muslim party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic party.

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