Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim rejected sodomy charges against him as he addressed the court for the first time Monday in his trial.
His opening statement from the dock came as the defence began presenting its case, five months after the prosecution rested its own.
In his speech, lasting almost an hour, Anwar accused judge and the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak of using a "show trial" to destroy his political career and extinguish any threat to the nation's ruling party.
"The allegation is a blatant and vicious lie and will be proven so. This is a vile and desperate attempt at character assassination," Anwar said.
"They can do all they want to assassinate and sully my character and threaten me with another 20 years in jail, but mark my words: They won't be able to cow me into submission."
Mr. Najib has previously has denied any involvement in the case against Anwar, saying the charges against the 64-year-old opposition leader were filed independently by his former aide, 26-year-old Saiful Bukhari Azlan.
Mr. Anwar was arrested and charged with sodomy in 2008, a few months after his three-party opposition alliance won control of several key states in hotly contested elections and broke the ruling National Front's customary two-thirds hold on Parliament. In 1998, 10 years earlier, after a bitter falling out with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar was charged with sodomizing two male aides and later convicted. The conviction was later overturned in 2004 and Mr. Anwar was freed after spending six years in prison. Mr. Mahathir denies fabricating a case against Mr. Anwar.
In his speech Monday, which Mr. Anwar read from the dock instead of from the witness stand in order to avoid cross-examination from prosecutors.
He accused the judge of unfair trial, arguing that the prosecution had consistently refused to disclose material critical to his defence, including the prosecution witness list, clinical notes of the doctors of Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL), witness statements, including Mohd Saiful's statement, and forensic samples and exhibits for independent examination and verification.
"All these have caused considerable prejudice to my defence and occasioned grave injustice," said Anwar.
Najib's government has denied involvement in the case. Najib refused to speak to defence lawyers or be called as a witness in interviews last week ordered by the trial judge.
Malaysia's Anwar defiant as sodomy trial resumes (AFP, 22 August 2011)
Anwar Assails Malaysian Officials, Court (Wall Street Journal, 22 August 2011)
Anwar Denies Having Sex With Mohd Saiful (Bernama, 22 August 2011)
Anwar's court appearance comes after police used tear gas and water cannon to put down a demonstration calling for electoral reform on July 9, the biggest anti-government protest in years.
The multiethnic opposition continues to command considerable support, however, and Mr. Najib last week pledged to consider ways to change the country's election laws in response to a massive demonstration of more than 20,000 people on the streets of Kuala Lumpur in July. That march, which included Mr. Anwar, himself a Muslim Malay, was forcibly broken up by police equipped with water cannons and tear gas.
A group calling itself the Bersih 2.0 coalition organised the rally, saying the electoral system is plagued with fraud. They want longer campaign periods, automatic voter registration and
equality of access to the largely government-linked mainstream media.
The UN and rights groups have already expressed alarm at the treatment of the protesters.
"The Malaysian government should launch a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the use of excessive force and unwarranted arrests by the security forces," said US-based Human Rights Watch.
Rights groups have also previously condemned the Anwar trial, with
Amnesty International urging the Malaysian government to throw out the
US concern at Malaysia crackdown on protests (BBC News, 14 July 2011)
Malaysia opposition leader Anwar faces 'show trial' (Amnesty International, 29 January 2010)