By Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (Reuters) - A Malaysian court convicted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy on Friday, overturning his acquittal two years ago in a ruling that his supporters and international human rights groups say was politically influenced and aimed at ending his career.
The court of appeal ruled that Anwar had anal intercourse with a male aide in 2008, a crime in the Muslim-majority country, dismissing his defense team's argument and the 2012 ruling that DNA evidence had been contaminated.
Anwar, who spent six years in jail on sodomy and corruption charges until his release in 2004, faces a jail term of up to 20 years, whipping and disqualification from holding political office. But his lawyers are expected to appeal to the highest court and aim to win a stay of the sentence, keeping the 66-year-old out of jail.
"It's (happening) all over again after 15 years," Anwar, who was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998 and convicted a year later on sodomy and corruption charges, told reporters.
"They want to put me in the lock-up."
The court was due to sentence Anwar on Friday evening, which his lawyers said would in theory prevent him from running in an election in a local state seat this month. That poll was expected to pave the way for him to take charge of Selangor, Malaysia's richest and most populous state. He must personally hand in his nomination papers on March 11 to be eligible to run.
Human Rights Watch had called the case "politically motivated persecution" and said the government wanted to remove Anwar from the political scene "by hook or by crook".
"It's truly a dark day for the Malaysia judiciary which has shown itself incapable of standing up straight when national political issues are in play in cases before them," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia head of Human Rights Watch, said after the verdict.
The charismatic Anwar, a former finance minister and deputy prime minister, remains a potent threat to the Barisan Nasional coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, leading a three-party opposition that has made deep inroads into its parliamentary majority in the past two national elections.
About 40 Anwar supporters shouted "Reform" and "Free Anwar" outside the court in the administrative capital Putrajaya where riot police were stationed in full gear.
Much of the case arguments over the two-day trial revolved around the integrity of DNA samples that the prosecution said proved Anwar had sodomized his aide. The defense had argued that the court could not find Anwar guilty due to substantial evidence that the semen samples had been degraded or tampered with.
One of the judges said that the judge in the case two years ago had "misdirected" himself on the integrity of the samples.
"Such failure merits an intervention," said justice Balia Yusof Wahi.
(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Nick Macfie)