KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - The sodomy trial of a Malaysian opposition leader who claims he is a victim of political persecution was temporarily halted Monday after he called for the removal of the presiding judge.
Anwar Ibrahim is accused of sodomizing 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 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 evenhanded justice which the law requires."
The judge is scheduled to hear the application and decide whether to step down from the case 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 sodomizing 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.
The trial began last week with testimony from Saiful, who claimed that Anwar asked him for sex when they met at a condominium to discuss Anwar's work schedule.
However, most of the details of the alleged incident were not made public because Anwar's lawyers successfully called for that part of Saiful's testimony to be recorded in court without public observers because of its explicit nature.
Anwar's defense team had been scheduled to cross-examine Saiful on Monday before the interruption.
"What we are asking for is a fair trial," Anwar said. "Clearly it's a political trial, there's no doubt about it."
Opposition members believe the trial was orchestrated by Prime Minister Najib Razak and his allies to cripple Anwar's People's Alliance, which severely eroded the ruling National Front coalition's parliamentary majority in March 2008 elections. Supporters of Anwar, who is married with six children, view him as a potential prime minister.
Anwar was previously tried for sodomy in 1998 when he was deputy prime minister under then-leader Mahathir Mohamad. He spent six years in prison for alleged corruption and sodomy before the sodomy conviction was overturned. Anwar maintains his innocence, insisting he was framed by Mahathir, who has denied it.
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