Former Philippine president Joseph Estrada has joined other world leaders in calling for the release from detention of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Estrada, who is now serving as the mayor of the City of Manila, expressed his support during a courtesy call to his office by Anwar’s daughter Nurul Izzah last November 9.
“I join the community of leaders worldwide in calling for the immediate release of my friend, former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim,” Estrada said, according to a report from The Philippine Star. “An icon of democracy, he is being held in detention illegally. It is a violation of international law and he is a victim of political injustice,” he added.
Meanwhile, Estrada added that he plans to visit Anwar before the year ends and that he is hopeful the government of Najib Razak would let him do so. During the closely-fought 2013 Malaysian general elections, the opposition coalition led by Anwar’s People Justice Party received more votes than Razak’s Barisan Nasional but still fell short of having a majority in the parliament due to gerrymandering.
The Federal Court of Malaysia (the equivalent of our Supreme Court) last February upheld an appellate court ruling finding him guilty of engaging in sodomy with a former male aide. That decision has been criticized by the international community including the United States and the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.
Early this month, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the immediate release of Anwar while blasting the Malaysian authorities for violating his civil and political rights. The UN decision prompted Anwar’s family to seek help from other Southeast Asian countries regarding the matter.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, Nurul Izzah explained why the international community should be concerned about what’s happening to her father. “Anwar Ibrahim symbolizes the large degree of persecution that’s taking place (against Malaysian opposition figures)… His release will mean that the call for freedom and the defense of human rights will go on,” she said.
Estrada and Anwar had been friends since the 1990s. At the time, Estrada was the country’s vice president while Anwar was widely perceived as the heir-apparent to long-serving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad.
Their paths however diverged wildly in 1998 when the former was elected president in a landslide while the latter was fired from his position and eventually jailed in connection to charges of sodomy and corruption. In November of that year, Estrada welcomed Nurul Izzah, then 18 years old, and her mother to Malacanang Palace. His move unsurprisingly angered Malaysian government.
In an ironic twist of fate, Estrada himself was forced out of office in 2001 because of allegations of corruption before spending the next six years jailed for plunder. The two men finally got to meet again in 2008 alongside former Philippine president and democracy icon Corazon Aquino.