Kuala Lumpur: The sodomy trial of a Malaysian opposition leader who claims he is a victim of political persecution was temporarily halted on Monday after he called for the removal of the presiding judge.
Anwar Ibrahim is accused of sodomising a former male aide and could be barred from politics for five years if convicted. He claims the government trumped up the charges in order to remove him from the political scene and weaken his opposition political party. The government denies the allegations.
Anwar said on Monday he was dissatisfied that the judge took no action against a newspaper owned by the ruling party that published a headline and photograph about the trial last week that he said were misleading and tantamount to contempt of court.
High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah`s decision raised "an element of real danger of bias," Anwar said in a court document. "There has been a departure from the standard of even-handed justice which the law requires."
The judge is scheduled to hear the application and decide whether to step down from the case on Tuesday.
However, Anwar`s application appeared unlikely to succeed because Mohamad Zabidin has previously refused to cite the newspaper for contempt, saying Anwar`s lawyers should file a police complaint if they believed the daily`s coverage was malicious.
Anwar is accused of sodomising 24-year-old Saiful Bukhari Azlan at a private condominium on June 26, 2008.
Sodomy, even if consensual, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison in Muslim-majority Malaysia. A sentence of at least one year would bar Anwar, 62, from politics for five years from the date of his release.