Anwar Ibrahim
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (C) and his wife Wan Azizah arrive at a court house in Putrajaya. A Malaysian court convicted Anwar of sodomy, upholding the government's appeal of his acquittal two years earlier in a ruling that his supporters said was politically influenced and aimed at ending his career.Reuters

A Malaysian court has sentenced opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in prison for sodomy, a grave offence in the Muslim country, and punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

The new judgment overturns an earlier acquittal in the same case, thus dashing his hopes to contest state by-elections this month.

The 66-year-old politician was convicted of sodomy with his male aide in 2008. He was cleared of the charges in 2012, and has maintained that the accusation was part of a political conspiracy to damage his stature as a leader.

"There is absolutely no case for them, this is clearly seen to be political," Anwar told reporters.

Twists and turns

This is not the first time he is charged with sodomy. As a deputy premier in 1998, his relationship with then prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad became strained and he was subsequently arrested for corruption and sodomy with his wife's former driver.

His conviction by a Malaysian court was strongly criticised by the international community. According to Amnesty International, his trial "exposed a pattern of political manipulation of key state institutions including the police, public prosecutor's office and the judiciary".

World leaders, including then US vice-president Al Gore, had urged for a fair trial and repeal of the verdict against Anwar.

He was subsequently acquitted of sodomy conviction in 2004, but corruption charges against him remained valid even though he was released from prison the same year to serve as an opposition leader.

Anwar was again apprehended in 2008 for sodomy, this time with his male aide. His arrest came just four months after an election in which Malaysia's ruling party failed to gain a majority.

In 2012, the sodomy charges were overturned when DNA evidence against him was found to be compromised.

However, this time the appeal court rejected the earlier verdict and pronounced him guilty again, just one month before elections are to be held in the opposition-ruled Selangor province.

The US has again come out in support of the veteran politician, saying that the charges are politically motivated.

"The decision to prosecute Mr Anwar, and his trial, have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the court," said Jen Psaki, State Department spokeswoman.

Human Rights Watch also condemned the move by the Malaysian court.

"This trial was all about knocking Anwar Ibrahim out of politics and the government was prepared to do whatever it took to make that happen," Phil Robertson, HRW Deputy Director, said in a statement.

"It's a dark day for the Malaysian judiciary which has shown how hard it is to get a free and fair trial when political issues are in play," he added.

The Malaysian government issued a statement saying that the decision was taken by an "independent" judiciary, and the verdict was arrived at in a "balanced and objective manner".

"This is a case between two individuals and is a matter for the courts, not the government," a government spokesman said.

After the ruling was announced, Anwar appealed to the panel of judges: "It is a travesty of justice, I would have thought you would have some courage."