KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who faces trial on sodomy charges, fought Wednesday to prevent the politically-charged case from being moved to the High Court.
Anwar has rejected the allegations levelled by a 23-year-old former aide -- the same charge that saw him jailed a decade ago -- as a government conspiracy to derail his plan to topple the ruling coalition.
His supporters fear authorities might be able to manipulate the case more easily at the High Court, and that seeking a transfer is little more than a delaying tactic.
At a Sessions Court hearing, defence lawyers opposed an application to transfer the case filed by Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail, who Anwar is suing in connection with his original trial on sodomy and corruption charges.
"For Gani to sign the order is ridiculous, he's an interested party and it is an ambush," Anwar told reporters after the hearing.
In a win for the defence, the Sessions Court judge made the unusual decision of setting a September 24 hearing for the opposition to present its case against transfer to the High Court.
Instructions from the attorney-general are not usually disputed, and the prosecution objected to the timing of the hearing, which will take place after the September 16 date by which Anwar is aiming to seize power.
"Two weeks is too long a time. This is a public interest case," government lawyer Yusof Zainal Abidin said.
Anwar's lawyer Sulaiman Abdullah accused the government of delaying tactics, and said there was no need to shift the case as sodomy trials are usually held in the lower court.
"It is going to be a waste of time if they transfer to the High Court, because they have to start the whole process again, and explain to the new judge what it's all about," he said.
"This is selective justice. People that they don't like go to the High Court."
The opposition and several lawyers at the hearing said there were concerns the government could manipulate the case in the High Court.
"They will push it to a judge who will be favourable to the prosecution," said one lawyer, a senior member of the Bar Council who did not want to be named.
Anwar said he was "very much" on track to carry out his plan to oust the government by September 16, by securing the support of at least 30 defectors from the ruling coalition.
"We are still working on it, we are in touch with the possible defectors, it is on track," he said.
Anwar's opposition alliance made huge strides in March general elections, securing five states and a third of parliamentary seats in an unprecedented challenge to the coalition that has ruled for half a century.
Security at the court complex in Kuala Lumpur was extremely tight, with 600 police and a water cannon at the ready. The riot squad, armed with tear gas launchers and batons, were in full force.
Anwar's Keadilan party had warned that street protests could break out if the 61-year-old opposition leader was stripped of bail and sent to jail for the duration of the trial, which is expected to run for several months.
"This is not a trial of Anwar but of the people's demand for a new government," said one of the supporters, 34-year-old engineer K. Ragunath.
"The government wants to stop Anwar from taking power by charging him falsely and I think it is wrong, we want justice for Anwar."
Norhayati Aulkifli, a 22-year-old student wearing a Muslim headscarf, said, "we want to see real change in Malaysia and we believe only Anwar can deliver that."
"We want an end to corruption and crime, and to have an honest government."
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