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01 October 2023

Crowds gather for Malaysia's Anwar verdict


At least 1,000 supporters of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim gathered outside a courtroom in Kuala Lumpur on Monday to await the verdict in his sodomy trial.

Amid heavy security, members of the crowd, many of whom had streamed from a nearby mosque following morning prayers, wore Muslim skullcaps, the blue headbands of Anwar's party or masks of the opposition leader's face.

They shouted slogans denouncing the trial, with some chanting "reformasi" (reform), the battle cry of Anwar supporters after his spectacular ousting as deputy prime minister and leader-to-be in the late 1990s.

"We hope Anwar will be freed today," said Bukhari Mohamad, 53, a finance company employee who travelled from the northern state of Terengganu for the verdict.

"But in this case he will probably be found guilty because they want to stop Anwar."

Hundreds of police officers and other security were guarding the streets around the Kuala Lumpur High Court, which was cordoned off, and a water cannon truck was parked a short distance away.

Some of those gathered carried signs reading "Against Slander" and "The People Are The Judge," with more people steadily arriving as the judgment approached.

The judge in the nearly two-year trial was expected to announce the verdict some time after 9:00 am (0100 GMT). The trial has riveted Malaysia and sparked charges of a government set-up to cripple the Anwar-led opposition.

It is the second sodomy verdict in a dozen years for Anwar.

The charismatic Anwar had been groomed to succeed former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad until a bitter row between them saw Anwar ousted in 1998, beaten and jailed on sodomy and graft charges widely seen as politically motivated.

The sodomy charge was overturned in 2004 and he was released, eventually leading a fractious opposition to unprecedented gains against his former ruling party in 2008 general elections.

But new sodomy charges emerged shortly after those polls, sparking accusations they were concocted by the ruling United Malays National Organisation to stall the opposition revival.

Sodomy is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by 20 years in jail.

Police earlier gave rare consent for the courthouse rally, provided it does not get out of hand. Anwar has said his supporters were being urged to remain peaceful and disperse after the verdict.