REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI –- In an unexpected conclusion to a controversial two-year trial, a Malaysian court Monday acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges, ruling that the DNA evidence submitted by the prosecution was unreliable.
Sodomy, even between consenting adults, is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia although few people are prosecuted. Anwar, who faced up to 20 years in prison for allegedly having sex with a former aide, has repeatedly maintained his innocence, terming the charges politically motivated.
Malaysia's information minister said Monday in a statement that the verdict in the case showed that the Southeast Asian nation's judiciary was free from government interference.
As news of the verdict spread, cheers erupted among Anwar's supporters, opposition politicians and his wife and daughters, many of whom raised their fists in the air.
"Thank God justice has prevailed," Anwar, 64, told journalists outside the courtroom amid heavy security. "To be honest, I am a little surprised."
The allegations against Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, were raised shortly after 2008 elections saw the opposition make sizable gains against the ruling United Malays National Organization party, in power for the last 50 years. This was the second sodomy trial against Anwar, who was beaten and jailed for six years in another case widely seen as politically motivated.
National elections are due by 2013, although analysts expect they'll be called later this year.
Minutes after the verdict, a message from Anwar's Twitter account read: "In the coming election, voice of the people will be heard and this corrupt government will be toppled from its pedestals of power."
-- Mark Magnier
Photo: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at his residence after he was acquitted in a surprise end to a politically charged sodomy trial. Credit: Kamarul Akhir / AFP/Getty Images