Malaysia Debates DNA Bill With Eye On Anwar Case

(By SEAN YOONG/ AP) Malaysia's government on Monday (18 Aug) proposed a law that would make it mandatory for criminal suspects to provide DNA samples _ a move that critics claim is meant to bolster a sodomy charge against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar introduced the DNA Identification Bill in Parliament, but denied the government was targeting Anwar, who has refused to give police a DNA swab in an investigation into an accusation that he sodomized a male aide.

"There is no political motive," Syed Hamid told reporters. "I think it is ridiculous that (the opposition) looks at everything as having a political motive."

Anwar, who is contesting an 26 Aug by-election for a Parliament seat and wants to topple the government by mid-September, was charged with sodomy earlier this month _ the second time in a decade he has faced the accusation _ and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Anwar says authorities might tamper with his DNA sample to implicate him in the case. Police have dismissed his concern and pledged a fair investigation.

Parliament must debate the DNA bill before it can be passed, a virtual certainty because government lawmakers comprise a majority. It must also be approved by the Senate and the king.

Syed Hamid said officials began drafting the bill in 2001, but did not say when the government expects the law to take effect. Under the proposed law, suspects can be jailed for a year if they refuse to provide DNA.

Opposition lawmaker Tony Pua noted the bill was the first to be proposed in Parliament when it reconvened Monday after a monthlong break, raising questions about why it was "so important that it has to be rushed into Parliament at this time."

"Are laws being changed just to ensure a successful upcoming prosecution of some prominent personality? Are goal posts being shifted against the natural course of justice?" Pua said.

The sodomy accusation by Anwar's 23-year-old former aide, Saiful Bukhari Azlan, was a bombshell for Anwar's three-party opposition alliance, which won an unprecedented 82 seats in the 222-member Parliament in March elections.

Anwar, 61, has rejected the accusation as a ploy to prevent him from carrying out his threat to engineer defections by government lawmakers to oust Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's administration by next month. Abdullah has denied any conspiracy.

Abdullah said Saiful's accusations should not be taken lightly.

"We must remember that he could be a victim," Abdullah was quoted as saying Sunday by the New Straits Times newspaper. "We tend to overlook small people like him who seek justice."

Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, claims police also fabricated evidence against him in 1998 when he was charged with sodomizing his family driver. Malaysia's highest court overturned the sodomy conviction in 2004.

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