KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Less than a week after Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed for sodomy, his lawyers said Monday that he faces a health risk because he's living in a bare cell with just a 2-inch-thick foam mattress on the floor, a bucket for bathing and a squat toilet.
Anwar, 67, began a five-year prison sentence last Tuesday after Malaysia's top court turned down his final appeal, ruling there was overwhelming evidence that he had sodomized a former male aide. The case was widely seen as politically motivated to eliminate any threats to the ruling coalition, whose popularity has been eroding after more than five decades of unquestioned dominance.
The lawyers said the prison conditions were aggravating Anwar's longtime back and spine problems, which could "pose a grave threat to his health."
Because of his medical condition, his lawyers requested a bed with a medically suitable mattress, a chair and table, a shower and a proper toilet for Anwar. Anwar cannot bend over or stand up from sitting on the floor without pain, they said.
"His conditions must be immediately improved before there are serious consequences to his health," the lawyers — N. Surendran, Latheefah Koya and Sivarasa Rasiah — said in a statement. "The government is fully responsible for prisoner of conscience Anwar Ibrahim's safety and health while he remains in custody."
Home ministry officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Anwar has been the most vocal and visible symbol of the opposition's resurgence and is seen as the most potent political threat to the government.
He was accused of sodomizing a former lowly aide, then 23, in 2008. Homosexuality is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia punishable by up to 20 years in prison and by whipping, although prosecutions are rare.
It was the second time Anwar was jailed for sodomy in just over a decade.
He previously was imprisoned for six years after being ousted as deputy prime minister in 1998 on earlier charges of sodomizing his former family driver and abusing his power. He was freed in 2004 after the top court quashed that sodomy conviction.
Anwar led his alliance to unprecedented gains in 2008 elections and made further inroads in 2013 polls. The ruling National Front coalition won with a slimmer majority and lost the popular vote to the opposition.