Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim makes final appeal against sodomy conviction

Malaysia's top court on Tuesday began hearing a final appeal filed by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim against a sodomy conviction widely regarded as politically motivated.

Anwar was sentenced to five years in prison in March on charges of sodomizing a male aide in 2008 after the appeals court overturned an earlier acquittal.

Critics say the case is part of a campaign by Malaysia's coalition government to silence its most potent threat.

"This trial is so unjust, said Anwar's wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail outside the courtroom. "We hope and pray that justice will be served, not just for Anwar but for all Malaysians."

Sodomy, even consensual, is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia and is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Anwar would also be banned from running for office for five years from the day he is released from jail.

A verdict is expected Wednesday.

Prime Minister Najib Razak's political party has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957 but faces declining support.

Anwar led a three-party alliance to unprecedented gains in 2008 elections and made further inroads in 2013 polls. Najib's National Front coalition won with a slimmer majority and lost the popular vote to the opposition.

Anwar was previously 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 Malaysia's top court quashed that sodomy conviction.

"Malaysia's sodomy law seems to exist chiefly to persecute Anwar Ibrahim," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "This drawn-out political theater has long been exposed as an attempt by the government to take Malaysia's most senior opposition leader out of political contention."

The U.S. government has expressed concerns about the legal moves against Anwar.