Anwar Ibrahim. Pic: AP.

Numerous opposition figures also under intense court pressure as Obama heads to KL, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen

Malaysian prosecutors are expected to ask the country’s highest court this Friday to increase the prison sentence meted out to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was judged guilty by an appellate court last month on sodomy charges.

The case is being taken to the Federal Court just two days before the arrival of US President Barack Obama on a state visit, an action seen as an insult to Washington.

Anwar currently faces five years in prison on the charge, which is rarely prosecuted in Malaysia and is widely seen as a crude attempt by the government to end his political career. The court is expected to act within two to six months after the referral.

Obama has no plans to see Anwar in Kuala Lumpur, officials said in Washington, although the opposition leader might meet with someone else in the presidential delegation. The case has been condemned by political leaders from the United States, Australia and other governments.  Anwar has long had many friends in Washington and he and his allies have assiduously courted US support in his long struggle against legal harassment.

Amnesty International and other rights groups have also condemned the charges against the country’s most prominent opposition figure. Most political observers in Kuala Lumpur fully expect the federal court to uphold the guilty verdict. Anwar himself is said to be bracing himself for a trip behind bars, his second after a widely-criticized guilty verdict for the same offense in 1999, which was eventually overturned.

Shortly before he died last week, Anwar’s lawyer, Karpal Singh, who was also an opposition leader, told reporters he had received new documents indicating prosecutors will seek the longer prison term.

“As Anwar is too old for whipping, they must feel five years is too light,” Karpal told AFP.

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