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(Editor's note: Today, gay activists in the Muslim-dominated Asian nation of Malaysia kicked off a court challenge to a police ban on an annual LGBT festival known as Seksualiti Merdeka (Sexuality Freedom). The activists told the media that the judge is expected to rule on Feb. 21 on an objection to the challenge by prosecutors. Also today, Amnesty International called on the government to repeal the law that criminalizes sodomy, where a conviction brings a punishment of up to 20 years in prison.)
The Malaysian opposition leader has been found "not guilty" in the finale to an epic sodomy trial.
The case against Anwar Ibrahim has always been thought political and a guilty verdict was expected, but in a break from past statements Ibrahim described the laws in the run up to the verdict as “archaic” and “unjust”.
He told The Associated Press last week that the case showed how the colonial era law could be “abused to show violent discrimination or intolerance.”
“Our present laws are deemed to be rather archaic. The whole idea (should be) to encourage people to understand, not to be seen to be so punitive. In this case it’s worse; you can go and probe and peep into people’s bedrooms just to try to smear them,” he said.
Ibrahim has previously been careful to distance himself from the nascent LGBT movement in Malaysia. But the country has shown increasing tolerance and debate around LGBT issues, though this has created a backlash including proposals from two Malaysian states to increase penalties and, as in Russia, ban LGBT organizing.
Anwar faced up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted. Another possible punishment of corporal punishment by whipping is reported to have only been ruled out on account of his age.
Ibrahim was first imprisoned for corruption and sodomy charges in 1999 then freed in 2004 only to be arrested again 2008 after an aide claimed sexual assault. A former Deputy Prime Minister, the 1999 charges followed after he fell out with the former leader Mahathir Mohammad.
Amnesty International described the prosecution as politically motivated.
“Anwar's acquittal is a welcome move. Fortunately, the Malaysian authorities have refrained from turning the country’s opposition leader into a prisoner of conscience,” said Donna Guest, deputy Asia-Pacific director at Amnesty International.
“The government must now repeal the sodomy law, a repressive statute that enabled this politically motivated persecution.”
Malaysia's Information minister, Rais Yatim, said of the verdict:
“Malaysia has an independent judiciary, and this verdict proves that the government does not hold sway over judges’ decisions.”