The State Department on Wednesday applauded the pardon of a leading opposition figure in Malaysia who was convicted under the country’s sodomy law.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim had been serving a five-year prison sentence after authorities in 2008 accused him of sodomizing an aide who worked for his party.
The Malaysian High Court in 2012 acquitted Anwar, but prosecutors charged him again.
An appeals court in 2014 overturned his acquittal and sentenced him to five years in prison. Malaysia’s highest court in 2015 upheld his conviction.
“The United States welcomes the release from prison and the full pardon of Malaysian political leader Anwar Ibrahim,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement. “His conviction and detention raised serious concerns about the rule of law in Malaysia.”
Nauert also noted Anwar “has been reunited with his family.”
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton last July met with Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry raised Anwar’s case with then-Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during a 2015 meeting in Kuala Lumpur. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch also called upon the Malaysian government to release Anwar.
Anwar’s release coincides with the start of Ramadan.
“Human Rights Watch commends the new government’s action to free Anwar and enable him to celebrate Ramadan as a free man with his family,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, told the Washington Blade on Thursday in an email from Bangkok. “Freeing Anwar was a long time coming and while people in Malaysia and around the world are delighted, no one should forget the injustice he faced serving a long sentence for a crime that should never been considered a crime.”
Robertson also said Najib “shamelessly politicized” Anwar’s case in order “to sideline a formidable political opponent.”
Malaysia is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized. Robertson told the Blade that new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad‘s government “should now get busy revising or revoking the many rights abusing laws that are still on the books in Malaysia so that other politicians and activists do not suffer a similar injustice to what Anwar faced.”