Malaysia's Anwar charged with sodomy
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (CNN) -- Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim pleaded not guilty Thursday to a sodomy charge that he has decried as politically motivated.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, center, arrives at court Thursday in Luala Lumpur.
Investigators arrested Anwar in July -- four months after a loose coalition of opposition parties he led made gains on the ruling party in parliamentary elections.
The charge alleges that he sodomized a 23-year-old aide.
Anwar pleaded not guilty during a brief court appearance in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, said Datuk Salahuddin Hashim, secretary general of Anwar's political party.
"We believe in his innocence," he said. "It's all a political conspiracy, and the party stands 100 percent behind him."
The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a whipping, according to the Malaysian National News Agency.
Anwar has called his arrest a "dirty trick and conspiracy" orchestrated by authorities who are trying to discredit him.
"This is a trick to deflect from the problem of corruption and mismanagement of the economy," he has said.
The U.S. State Department has said that Anwar's arrest "raises serious questions and concerns."
It's the second time that Anwar, one of Asia's best-known opposition leaders, has been charged with offenses that include sodomy.
Anwar spent six years in prison after being convicted on corruption charges in 1999 and on sodomy charges involving his wife's former driver in 2000. Malaysia's highest court overturned the sodomy conviction and ordered him released from prison in 2004.
In the current case, a 23-year-old male aid has accused the 60-year-old Anwar of sodomizing him at a luxury apartment in June. Sodomy, even if consensual, is punishable by 20 years in prison in the majority-Muslim country.
Anwar has said the investigators trying to build a case against him are the same ones who he claims hid evidence that could have cleared him in his sodomy-related conviction in 1999.
Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Albar has told CNN that politics played no role in the arrest.
"Anwar is not above the law; everyone is within the law," Albar said. "We will look at it purely as a case of criminality that the government needs to investigate."
He said police took two weeks to investigate the sodomy charge against him before an arrest was made.
"We went slowly, knowing the international community is observing us on this -- knowing his popularity on the international level," Albar said. "To be fair, you must give the complainant the chance that he's being heard. It is the right of a citizen. It is the police's duty to investigate."