NEW YORK (May 16, 2018) — The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) celebrates the release of Malaysia’s opposition leader and Oslo Freedom Forum speaker Anwar Ibrahim. During his electoral campaign, Malaysia’s newly-elected prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, pledged that one of his first acts in office would be to secure a royal pardon for Anwar. Following through with his campaign promise, Mahathir announced on Friday —just two days after the election — that Malaysia’s king agreed to pardon Anwar. Today, the pardons board of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lampur, Labuan and Putrajaya convened and the king granted Anwar a royal pardon on the ground that there was a “miscarriage of justice.”
“The victory of the opposition coalition during the election and the release of Anwar Ibrahim from prison are landmark events in Malaysian history. We rejoice knowing that Anwar will be going home to his loving family and that this nightmare is finally over,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “We hope that Malaysia’s new prime minister continues upon this path to lead Malaysia toward a democratic future.”
Mahathir and Anwar formed an unexpected political alliance ahead of the May 9 general election. Their coalition, Pakatan Harapan, won 122 of 222 seats in parliament, unseating former ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN), which had presided over Malaysia since its independence in 1957; BN won only 79 seats as compared with the 133 seats it secured in 2013. Under Article 48 of Malaysia’s constitution, a royal pardon will allow Anwar to resume political activities immediately. Anwar was originally set to be released from jail next month, but in the absence of a royal pardon, he would have been barred from political participation for five years.
During the campaign, Mahathir also promised that he would eventually step aside to allow Anwar to take over as prime minister; however, it is not clear when such a transfer of power would take place, especially since Anwar would first have to win a byelection.
Anwar was convicted in 2014 on trumped-up “sodomy” charges, despite a lack of DNA evidence, inconsistency in the testimony of his accuser, and evidence tampering by a senior police officer in the case. The trial was politically-motivated; at the time, Anwar was preparing to run for office in Selangor, one of Malaysia’s most influential and economically powerful states. He had been in prison since February 2015.
In June 2017, HRF sent an open letter to Malaysia’s monarch and head of state, Sultan Muhammad V, urging Anwar’s release after new evidence came to light regarding briberyduring his trial. On May 31, 2017, Sarawak Report, an independent news source, published an article stating that the lead prosecutor in the state’s appeal of Anwar’s initial acquittal, Shafee Abdullah, received payments totaling RM 9.5 million from Prime Minister Najib Razak as personal compensation just 14 days before the High Court overturned Ibrahim’s acquittal. These payments raised serious questions about Shafee’s independence, especially since Najib’s administration had previously told the public that Shafee received RM 1,000 as a token payment for his work on the prosecution team. Shafee did not deny receiving the additional payment from the prime minister.
Anwar Ibrahim gave a talk at the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum entitled “Confronting Half a Century of One-Party Rule,” in which he issued a warning about a new kind of human rights violator: governments that hide behind a façade of democracy and commit crimes in its name. Anwar’s daughter and opposition politician, Nurul Izzah Anwar, also spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2015 about how “Malaysia’s Most Wanted” are the activists that challenge the government, and expressed her hope that Malaysia’s future will belong to those seeking a fairer and more democratic country.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.