KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Police arrested Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Wednesday about an hour before a deadline for him to appear at police headquarters to answer allegations that he sodomized a male aide.
The arrest was likely to exacerbate the political divisions and tensions that have been running high since the opposition made unprecedented gains in the March general elections, eroding the ruling coalition’s strength in Parliament.
Anwar has denied the sodomy accusation — made in a police complaint by the young male aide last month — as a political conspiracy by the government to snuff out his publicly announced campaign to seize power by September.
About a dozen policemen, some of them wearing balaclavas, cordoned off the road leading to Anwar’s house and stopped his car, said his lawyer Sankara Nair. He said the policemen informed Anwar that they had orders to arrest him but gave no reason.
Anwar was bundled into a police car with dark tinted windows and driven to the police headquarters where a crowd of opposition lawmakers including his wife Azizah Ismail gathered outside. They were not allowed inside, and there was no trouble or violence.
Azizah said Anwar called on her cell phone after being arrested.
“I feel apprehensive because my husband … is not that well. He has a bad back, he’s had surgery. And (during our) the brief conversation he said they (police) were not gentle,” she said.
It was not clear why Anwar was arrested a little before 1 p.m. since he had said he would present himself for interrogation before the Wednesday 2 p.m. deadline set by the police.
Azmin Ali, the vice president of Anwar’s People’s Justice Party, called the arrest “outrageous and very uncivilized.”
“This is not a criminal case but a political case,” he said.
The arrest was made as Anwar was returning home from the administrative capital of Putrajaya. He had told reporters there that he would go to the police headquarters at 2 p.m. and “give my fullest cooperation” to the police.
The sodomy accusation recreated a drama surrounding a similar scandal he faced in 1998 when he was deputy prime minister and finance minister. Another sodomy accusation at the time led to his dismissal from the government and subsequent conviction and imprisonment. His downfall led to massive street protests by his supporters for weeks.
Malaysia’s Supreme Court later overturned the conviction, but by then Anwar had served six years in jail on a related abuse of power charge. He was freed in 2004, when he revived his political career as an opposition leader.
“There is no basis for this whole fabrication and malicious attacks. It is just a repeat of the 1998 script. You can see the pattern,” Anwar said in Putrajaya.
Anwar can be held in custody for up to 14 days, after which he must be charged. Sodomy is a non-bailable offense, punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
The sodomy accusation has hampered his campaign to topple the government, which suffered badly at the hands of his three-party People’s Alliance in the March 8 general elections.
The ruling National Front coalition, which has traditionally enjoyed a two-thirds majority, now has only a 30-seat advantage over the opposition. Anwar’s charisma and strategic skills were credited with boosting the opposition’s strength in the 222-member Parliament from 19 to 82 seats.