ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said that Anwar's case exemplified a trend of intensified government persecution against critical voices in Malaysia, which has continued in the years since his jailing and remains a serious concern, particularly with parliamentary elections on the horizon. The collective of regional lawmakers called on Malaysian authorities to cease judicial harassment and other forms of intimidation against opposition members and government critics and repeal or amend existing legislation restricting fundamental freedoms.
"Anwar Ibrahim's conviction flew in the face of international legal standards and seriously undermined the credibility of Malaysia's justice system, demonstrating the extent to which the courts have been used as tools of an executive agenda. Anwar has already spent 1,000 days too many behind bars and should be immediately freed," said APHR Board Member Teddy Baguilat, a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines.
"From the beginning, this case was about silencing opposition voices and making it more difficult to challenge the government. It's a trend we've been seeing intensify across the region, and it signals even darker days ahead for human rights in ASEAN," he added.
On 10 February 2015, the Federal Court of Malaysia upheld a 2014 decision by the Court of Appeal to convict Anwar Ibrahim on charges of "sodomy" under Section 377 of the Malaysian Penal Code and sentence him to five years in prison. The case, which bore all the hallmarks of being politically motivated, is indicative of the persistent human rights challenges Malaysia faces, particularly in upholding the rights of individuals who criticize the ruling government, APHR said.
At least half a dozen activists have subsequently faced investigation, arrest, charges, or convictions for calling for Anwar's release. These cases, along with other instances of judicial harassment against government critics in recent years, highlight the urgent need for Malaysia to repeal or amend all laws that disproportionately restrict freedom of expression and assembly, APHR said. These include the 1948 Sedition Act, the 1959 Prevention of Crime Act, the 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act, the 2012 Peaceful Assembly Act, and the 2012 Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.
"These laws have been repeatedly abused by the authorities for political ends and have no place in a country hoping to bolster its regional leadership credentials within ASEAN," Baguilat said.
Regional MPs argued that the continued persecution of opposition voices in Malaysia threatens the credibility of the next round of parliamentary elections, which must take place before the end of August 2018, and emphasized the need to allow for an environment conducive to free expression and genuine, inclusive competition in advance of the polls.
"Malaysia's leaders must embrace the virtues of a strong, vibrant opposition. They must recognize that dissenting voices represent an integral part of the democratic process, rather than a threat. Releasing political prisoners – including Anwar – would send a strong message that Malaysia's government intends to respect its commitments to due process and free and fair elections," Baguilat added.
Anwar Ibrahim's daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, who is also a Malaysian MP and member of APHR, likewise urged Malaysian authorities, including Prime Minister Najib Razak, to free her father, and highlighted concerns about treatment needed for medical conditions, which have worsened since his detention in 2015.
"After 1,000 days of incarceration, Prime Minister Najib has an opportunity to reverse course and lean in toward democracy by facilitating Anwar's deserved pardon for the simple fact of his innocence and unjust trial. If this is too much, we hope, at least, that a modicum of mercy and patriotism can inspire the Prime Minister to allow Anwar unfettered access to proper medical care, even if only available outside Malaysia," she said.