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Malaysian court frees Anwar - Sep 2, 2004

Written By Syafrein Effendiuz on 2/09/04 | Khamis, September 02, 2004

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia -- Malaysia's highest court has overturned the controversial sodomy conviction of former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and freed him from prison.

The Federal Court ruled 2-1 to reverse the conviction against one of Asia's best-known political rebels on Thursday, six years after his firing triggered off the Southeast Asian nation's biggest political crisis.

Anwar, once considered the heir-apparent to then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, was sacked and jailed in September 1998 after falling out with Malaysia's leader.

In his first remarks to reporters, Anwar claimed the convictions against him had been "highly politically motivated" but that he bore no ill will toward Mahathir, The Associated Press reported.

Mahathir retired 10 months ago.

"I bear no malice against him. Let him retire," Anwar said. "I feel vindicated. This is all about justice."

CNN Correspondent Maria Ressa reported that outside the court Anwar gave credit to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi for not interfering with the judiciary, saying this could not have happened under Mahathir.

Anwar remains banned from the electoral process for at least five years because of his corruption conviction. He finished that sentence last year.

Hundreds of supporters cheered as Anwar was wheeled out of the courtroom.

He was then driven to to his father's home, where he had his first post-freedom meal of mashed rice and chicken and water laced with honey, the AP reported.

Anwar has increasingly been confined to a wheelchair from an injury blamed partly on a prison beating by Malaysia's then-police chief in 1998.

In April 1999 Anwar was found guilty of corruption and given a six-year jail term. In August 2000 he was convicted of sodomy charges involving his wife's former driver, and given a nine-year consecutive term.

Sodomy is a crime in Malaysia, which is a predominantly Muslim Asian nation.

The ruling drew condemnation from leading world figures and violent street protests in Malaysia.

Even with an expected one-third off for good behavior, Anwar had five years to go on his nine-year term for sodomy.

Put it behind
Abdullah, who succeeded Anwar as Mahathir's hand-picked heir, had been expected to take a softer line toward Anwar and put the divisive issue behind Malaysia after he took office last year.

Judge Abdul Hamid Mohamad read out the verdict over 1 1/2 hours.

As it became apparent that Anwar, 57, would be freed, the former deputy prime minister -- wearing a neck brace and confined to a wheelchair -- exchanged excited glances with family members and gave a thumbs-up sign.

"We are not prepared to uphold the conviction," Abdul Hamid said.

"We therefore allow this appeal and set aside the conviction and the sentence."

Abdul Hamid said the conviction was flawed because the chief prosecution witness, Azizan Abubakar, had repeatedly changed the dates that he claimed Anwar had committed homosexual acts with him.

Azizan had been the driver for Anwar's wife.

Anwar, who is ethnic Malay and has drawn support amongst majority Malays, has always maintained he was framed for political reasons.

He claimed the convictions were rigged to prevent him from challenging Mahathir for power.

Anwar is expected to travel to Germany for surgery to treat his back injury. Anwar's wife said he wanted to leave as soon as possible.

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Copyright 2004 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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