2011/06/06

Malaysia's Anwar loses bid to remove judge

KUALA LUMPUR, June  6, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim failed in his third bid Monday to remove the trial judge in his drawn-out sodomy case.

The 63-year-old is on trial over allegations that he sodomised a 25-year-old former aide at an upmarket apartment in June 2008. He says the accusations are politically motivated.

"This is a very fundamental issue, an issue of justice... Where is the test of bias?" Anwar told reporters outside the High Court courtroom after his legal team unsuccessfully argued Judge Zabidin Mohamed Diah was biased.

"We have not been able to even interview the list of witnesses offered to us, and you expect us to go in the dock and defend ourselves? Defend from what when a decision has been made?" said an agitated Anwar.

In seeking the judge's removal, Anwar's counsel Karpal Singh told the court that Zabidin had effectively convicted Anwar before the opposition leader had given his defence.

Last month, the judge ruled that Anwar had a case to answer after finding the prosecution's main witness -- the accuser -- "credible". That decision amounted to a prejudgement, Anwar's defence team say.

Karpal said the prosecution was also delaying the trial by allowing Anwar's lawyers to interview only five of the 25 witnesses it had promised, including Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife.

They met Mohamad Saiful Bukhari, the man allegedly sodomised by father-of-six Anwar, after the purported incident.

Throwing out the latest bid to have him removed, Zabidin told a packed courtroom: "I find the application by the defence to be without any merit and therefore I hereby reject the application."

Government prosecutor Mohamad Yusof Zainal Abiden argued that there had been "no prejudgement and there is no bias" because the judge had done his job in evaluating the evidence and concluded the evidence was strong enough to establish a case against Anwar.

Anwar's lawyers said they will appeal the ruling and the trial will resume on July 13.

Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia, whether or not it is between consenting adults.

Anwar says the accusations are part of a long-running government plot to derail his political career, but authorities have denied any conspiracy.

He was sacked as deputy premier by then prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1998 and found guilty of corruption and sodomy, but was released from jail in 2004 after that separate sodomy conviction was overturned.

He has since become an electoral threat to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which has been in power for half a century.

Anwar could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted. The marathon trial began in January last year but has been punctuated by delays and legal arguments.