Malaysia demonstrators demand Anwar Ibrahim's release

Malaysia demonstrators demand Anwar Ibrahim's release
Protesters marching through Kuala Lumpur on Mar 7.

KUALA LUMPUR - Several thousand people marched through Kuala Lumpur on Saturday to demand the release of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed last month for five years on sodomy charges.

Chanting "Free Anwar!" and "Reformasi" (Reform), the demonstrators, led by members of Anwar's family, staged a short march from a busy shopping district toward the capital's Petronas Towers skyscrapers.

An AFP journalist estimated the crowd at around 5,000.

Some in the crowd chanted "Down with Najib", a reference to Prime Minister Najib Razak, and carried an effigy of him.

But there were no incidents seen, and no large police presence, despite police in recent days declaring the rally illegal.

Anwar has said his conviction on charges that he sodomised a former male aide in 2008 was cooked up by Malaysia's 58-year-old government to thwart the opposition, which has made significant gains in recent parliamentary elections.

The government strongly denies the accusation and insists that its judicial system is independent and impartial.

"Little by little the voices of the people will be heard, that's why today's event is significant," said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a campaigner for democratic reform who took part in the march.

"They (demonstrators) are troubled by what is happening here."

The United States has been among the international critics of the conviction, saying it raised questions over the rule of law in Malaysia.

Anwar's family has applied for a royal pardon from Malaysia's figurehead Islamic royalty, but its chances are considered slim due to the conservative nature of the monarchy.

Anwar was heir apparent to leadership of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in the late 1990s until his ouster in a power battle.

He was subsequently jailed for six years on an earlier sodomy charge that he also called politically motivated.

He later helped unite a previously divided opposition into a formidable force.

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