[JURIST] Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Thursday pleaded not guilty to sodomy charges [JURIST report] based on allegations by a former aide. The presiding judge ordered Anwar released on bail, ruling that he was not a flight risk. Anwar has denied the accusations, saying that they are part of a government campaign to to upset his plans to run in an August 26 by-election, and filed a lawsuit against his accuser [JURIST report] in late June. Under Malaysian law, sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison regardless of consent. Human rights groups have also questioned the timing of the charges. Human Rights Watch Asia [advocacy website] Thursday called for the government to drop the charges [press release], while Amnesty International [advocacy website] described the allegations as "politically motivated" [press release]. AFP has more. The Financial Times has additional coverage.
Malaysian authorities briefly arrested Anwar last month, less than a day after a warrant was issued for his arrest [JURIST reports]. Last week, Anwar released a medical report [PDF text and explanation; JURIST report] that he said refuted the sodomy allegations. Anwar was Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister under former Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad [BBC profile] until he was fired in 1998 following earlier sodomy charges of which he was initially convicted but later acquitted. He only recently reentered Malaysian politics following the expiration of a ten-year ban [JURIST report] against him for unrelated corruption charges. Last month the Federal Court of Malaysia ruled he could challenge the constitutionality [JURIST report] of his original dismissal from office.