SYDNEY (AFP) - – More than 50 Australian lawmakers have lodged a formal protest urging Malaysia to drop opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's sodomy trial and warning it will hurt the country's image, an official said Friday.
The group, which includes MPs and senators from both major parties, called for the case against Anwar to be abandoned in the interests of building "confidence in the impartial rule of law in Malaysia".
"Many friendly observers of Malaysia find it difficult to believe that a leading opposition voice could be charged with sodomy a second time, and so soon after his party made major gains in national elections," the protest letter says.
"It should be made known to the Malaysian government, that in our opinion, global esteem for Malaysia will be affected by these charges against Mr. Anwar.
"We hope that Malaysia's authorities will not pursue these charges."
Michael Danby, member of the governing centre-left Labor party and chairman of Australia's foreign affairs parliamentary subcommittee, said he handed the letter to Malaysian High Commissioner Salman Bin L Ahmad in Canberra Thursday.
"A lot of people know Anwar Ibrahim, a lot of people have been to Malaysia, and a lot of Australian parliamentarians think it's a shame that this is happening for the second time to the leader of the opposition in what is a developing democracy," Danby told AFP.
"We (feel we) should stand up and support a fellow democrat."
Former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Brown, leader of the Greens party were among the signatories, as well as independent Senator Nick Xenophon and two minor members of the Labor Party frontbench.
Danby said the Malaysian high commissioner was well aware that there was a "wide spectrum of opinion in Australia" and the letter was not intended to inflame diplomatic relations.
"We hope it shows people in Malaysia and the opposition that we care," Danby said.
Anwar, who faces 20 years imprisonment if convicted of illicit sexual relations with a young former aide, has condemned the allegations against him as a political conspiracy to sideline the opposition.
He has accused High Court judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah of refusing to rein in "biased" media coverage of the much-delayed trial, which began last week.
Anwar was arrested in 1998 on sodomy and corruption charges but made a stunning comeback after being freed from prison in 2004. His sexual misconduct charge was overturned after six years behind bars.