Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, imprisoned since February, is the focus of a pledge signed by 40 scholars and public figures lamenting his mistreatment and urging his immediate release.
The “Global Call for the Release of Anwar Ibrahim” condemns Anwar’s persecution by the Malaysian authorities and their ongoing repression of freedom of speech and assembly.
Anwar is serving a five-year prison sentence on a sodomy charge that virtually all observers believe was politically motivated. The pledge, released by Anwar’s family on Monday, marks his 68th birthday and almost a half-year spent in jail.
Stanford professor Donald Emmerson, who has known Anwar since the 1980s, welcomed the circulation of the pledge. “Even if the Malaysian government ignores the petition,” Emmerson said, “it is important for the international community to show that Anwar is not alone.”
Anwar’s ordeal dates back to 1998 when, as deputy prime minister, he had a falling out with then-prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who drove him from office for apparently political reasons.
Malaysia’s current prime minister, Najib Razak, has continued this record of political persecution despite protests from around the world. Amnesty International has designated Anwar “a prisoner of conscience.”
Emmerson, who leads the Southeast Asia Program, joined Anwar on a panel in Nov. 2014 entitled “Islam and Democracy: Malaysia in Comparative Perspective,” hosted at Stanford by the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).
Following that event, Anwar traveled back to Malaysia despite signs pointing toward his possible arrest.
“Anwar’s courage in the face of adversity is inspiring,” Emmerson said. “He could have chosen not to return from Stanford to Malaysia, thereby avoiding the risk of imprisonment. He could have gone into exile. Or asked for asylum outside Malaysia. Instead, he went home. How many of us, in his shoes, would have done the same?”
The pledge is attached below. Remarks and video from the CDDRL event with Anwar, Emmerson and Stanford’s Larry Diamond and Francis Fukuyama can be accessed here.