Malaysia’s jailed opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim was released this morning (Wednesday) after serving more than three years in jail.
He walked out of the Cheras Rehabilitation Hospital a free man after the king, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, granted him a royal pardon on the basis of a “miscarriage of justice”.
Anwar was released directly from the hospital, where he was being monitored by doctors and undergoing physiotherapy after surgery on his right shoulder.
He then left for an audience with the king at the National Palace (Istana Negara), which will also be attended by his wife, the nominated deputy prime minister, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and the Selangor Menteri Besar (First Minister), Seri Azmin Ali.
There was such chaos outside the hospital that Anwar was bustled away and made no comment. A major celebration is planned for this evening.
The politician looked suave in a suit and tie, and smiled broadly at the crowds as he finally tasted liberty again.
The request for a pardon was made by the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition, which, in the election on May 9, defeated the ruling coalition in a shock victory. It was the opposition’s first general election win since Malaysia gained its independence from Britain in 1957.
“The king, with the advice of the pardons board of the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya, has allowed a full pardon and given an immediate release for … Anwar bin Ibrahim,” said a statement issued by the palace.
Anwar, who is now 70 years old, was jailed on February 10, 2015, for five years after five judges in the Federal Court upheld his conviction for sodomy. The conviction disqualified Anwar from political office and from contesting the 2018 general election.
He had been due to be released in just over three weeks’ time, on June 8, as his sentence was reduced “for good behaviour”.
The Court of Appeal found Anwar guilty of sodomising his former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan in 2008 and imposed a five-year prison sentence. Anwar was then acquitted by the High Court in 2012, but the Court of Appeal overturned the decision in March 2014, just days before Anwar was due to contest the Kajang by-election.
Anwar said the case against him was fabricated by his political enemies and the verdict was strongly criticised both locally and internationally.
He had already spent two years in political detention and six years in prison after earlier convictions on corruption (for allegedly interfering with police investigations into claims of sexual misconduct made against him), and sodomy charges. He was released in September 2004 after the sodomy conviction was overturned.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said that he will hand over to Anwar, who, thanks to the royal pardon, is now able to contest a by-election. Mahathir has not said when he will do this, but it is expected to be within two years.
Anwar, who served as Mahathir’s deputy from 1993 to 1998, was sacked and arrested during Mahathir’s tenure (in September 1998), but the two have now buried their differences and are working together as allies.
The deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson tweeted: “Freeing
#Anwar was a long time coming, escaping a sentence that never should have been given for a so-called ‘crime’ that never should have been a crime says @hrw. Delighted that he is finally free.”
Anwar’s release comes the day before the fasting month of Ramadan begins tomorrow.
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In his first press conference after his release, Anwar indicated that he was in no rush to take over from Mahathir.
He said that he was back as a concerned citizen and had given the new leadership of Malaysia his categorical assurance that he would give them his complete support in their management of the affairs of the country “on the understanding that we are committed to the reform agenda”.
Anwar said he would not be making an immediate return to politics and added that he had been invited to give a series of lectures in renowned universities overseas.
He said the appeal for pardon was because there was a miscarriage of justice, “a travesty of justice”. He added: “We appealed because there was clear conspiracy to condemn me, [to] assassinate my political character.”
The pardon, Anwar said, is complete and unconditional. “The entire conviction is erased automatically.”
He said that he, Wan Azizah, and Seri Azmin Ali spent one hour in discussion with the king, expressing their gratitude and talking about national current affairs and international issues.
“I was deeply gratified by the wealth of knowledge and the concern and compassion shown by the king,” Anwar said.
Now, Anwar said, there was a new dawn for Malaysia.
“I must thank the people of Malaysia; Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazans, Iban, the entire spectrum of Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, who stood by the principles of democracy and freedom.
“They demand change and it is our duty now to ensure that this mandate given to Pakatan Harapan will honour this commitment.”
Asked about his time in jail, Anwar said: “The most significant lesson one can learn from prison life is the value of freedom.
“When you are incarcerated you realise what is the meaning and significance of freedom.”
He said prison officers and other staff were kind and compassionate and very supportive to him.
Talking about the lectures he will give, Anwar said he felt he had a contribution to make “to show that the voice of reason and moderation in Islam is paramount”.
He wants to pass on the message that “Muslims can also be counted upon to ensure that there is and freedom and justice for all citizens in their country”.
He said that it was clear that the former prime minister, Najib Razak, was involved in his conviction, but he bore no personal malice towards him.
He said he didn’t want his own incarceration to be the central point of actions against Najib. Rather, the focus needed to be “the issue of injustice towards the people, crime committed against the people, endemic corruption that has become the culture in this country”.
He added: “When it comes to my personal welfare, I have forgiven. I want to move on. I have no malice towards Najib or anyone else.”