Malaysian opposition leader Anwar arrested

July 16, 2008 12:00 am

, KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 – Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was arrested Wednesday just as he was due to face police interrogation over allegations he sodomised a male aide, his lawyer and police said.

Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said she feared for his safety, after the events of a decade ago when he was sacked as deputy premier, beaten up by the police chief, and convicted on sodomy and corruption charges.

"My concern is for my husband’s safety and we want access to see him," said Wan Azizah, a parliamentarian whose Keadilan party leads a three-member opposition alliance.

"I feel apprehensive because my husband is 10 years down the road, he is not that well, he has a bad back, he’s had surgery and from a brief conversation, he said they were not gentle," she said.

Anwar’s lawyer Sankara Nair said he witnessed the arrest at the gates of the opposition leader’s home, while he was en route between a meeting with anti-corruption officials and a scheduled interview with police.

"He had just arrived home when about 10 officers detained him at the gate of his home," he told AFP.

Deputy national police Chief Ismail Omar confirmed Anwar had been arrested, saying he was a suspect in the sodomy case and would undergo a medical examination.

"He is not being charged with anything yet, don’t jump to conclusions," Ismail told AFP.

"We have to record his statement to complete our investigations," he said. "Once the facts are in we can make a decision."

Anwar had already agreed to a 2:00 pm (0600 GMT) meeting with police over the sexual assault allegations levelled by Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old who was a volunteer in his office.

Sodomy, even between consenting adults, is illegal in predominantly Muslim Malaysia and carries a penalty of up to 20 years imprisonment.

The charges threaten to derail Anwar’s political comeback, and his plans to oust the government with the help of defecting lawmakers, after landmark March elections that handed the opposition unprecedented gains.

Keadilan issued an immediate call for its supporters to rally outside the Kuala Lumpur police headquarters where Anwar was taken.

Earlier Wednesday he dismissed the accusations as a conspiracy to prevent him from seizing power, and said it was a re-run of events a decade ago when he was slapped with charges widely seen as politically motivated.

"There’s no basis for this whole fabrication and malicious attacks. It is just a repeat of the 1998 script. You can see the pattern," he told reporters. "I will challenge them on every ground."

Anwar’s downfall a decade ago triggered massive protests in a "Reformasi" or "Reform" movement that continues to reverberate in Malaysian politics.

Keadilan said it would ensure that the gathering outside police headquarters remained calm as there were concerns the government was planning to launch a crackdown including further arrests of opposition leaders.

"There’s a possibility that they would like to provoke so they can justify a much wider crackdown against the democratic movement in Malaysia," said the party’s information chief Tian Chua.



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