Malaysian court charges opposition leader Anwar over street protest

A picture dated April 28 shows Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at a rally for electoral reforms in Kuala Lumpur.

Story highlights

  • A street demonstration last month ended in clashes between police and protesters
  • Anwar Ibrahim is charged with inciting protesters to breach barriers at the event
  • The offense carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison
  • He says the charges are "political" ahead of elections expected later this year
A Malaysian court on Tuesday charged opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in relation to his role in a street protest calling for electoral reform last month at which the police fired tear gas at demonstrators.
The charges create uncertainty about the part Anwar will be able to play in elections expected to be called later this year, just months after a court found him not guilty of sodomizing a former male political aide.
The April 28 protest, organized by a loose coalition of opposition groups known as Bersih, spilled into Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur, prompting the police to move in and arrest hundreds of demonstrators. The police had obtained a court order forbidding protesters from entering the square.
The court in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday charged Anwar with breaking the court order by inciting people to breach the barriers around the square. That offense carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a 2,000 ringgit (U.S. $640) fine.
He was also charged with participating in a street protest, the maximum punishment for which is a 10,000 ringgit (U.S. $3,200) fine.
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As he left the court, Anwar said the charges were "political in nature."
The court charged two other people with the same offenses Tuesday: Azmin Ali, the deputy president of the People's Justice Party, and Badrul Hisham Shaharin, another party official.
The three men were granted bail at 500 ringgit (U.S. $160) each. The next court hearing in the case was set for July 2.
Anwar has fought a series of legal battles over the past 15 years.
He was the heir apparent to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad until 1998, when he was sacked and charged with corruption and sodomy.
Anwar spent six years in prison after being convicted on corruption charges in 1999 and on sodomy charges involving his wife's former driver in 2000.
Malaysia's highest court overturned the sodomy conviction and ordered him released from prison in 2004. However, the corruption verdict was never lifted, barring him from running for political posts until 2008.
Investigators then arrested Anwar in July 2008 in relation to allegations that he sodomized the former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan. That was four months after a loose coalition of opposition parties that he led won 82 of 222 parliamentary seats in elections.
Anwar said the trial was an attempt by the government to end his political career -- an assertion it consistently denied.
The court process over those charges dragged on until Anwar's acquittal in January this year.