The Malaysian government has been urged to revoke its laws criminalising homosexuality and abandon the criminal trial of its former deputy Prime Minister, which is believed to be nearing a verdict.

The Human Rights Watch group made the call during the trial of Anwar Ibrahim, who it claims the state is trying to “slander” with the anti-gay laws.

Anwar was first imprisoned for corruption and sodomy charges in 1999.

Though the second charge was later overturned and he was freed in 2004, Anwar was arrested for a second time in 2008 after Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, a 23-year-old aide, claimed he had been sexually assaulted by the politician.

Anwar was charged under the country’s consensual sodomy laws as officials believed he could not have physically forced Azlan into the alleged act. Azlan was not charged as it was he who had made the report.

The trial began in February 2010.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Malaysian government uses its outdated sodomy law to slander political opponents and critics.

“Whether or not Anwar Ibrahim engaged in consensual ‘sodomy’ is irrelevant. It’s time to reject this law and end the farcical political theater that promotes discrimination based on sexual orientation and destroys people’s lives.”

Section 377 of the Malaysian penal code prohibits “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”

The recent report by the UN high commissioner for human rights, to be presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2012, recommended that UN member states “repeal laws used to criminalize individuals on grounds of homosexuality for engaging in consensual same-sex sexual conduct.”

Robertson added: “Laws punishing consensual sexual relations between adults of the same sex are an unjustifiable invasion of the rights to privacy and personal security.

“They foster a climate in which discrimination and abuse takes place. These rights cannot be willed away by selective appeals to cultural tradition and religious belief.”

Earlier this week, a religious group in the broadly Islamic country called on their police to intervene in the case of medical student Ariff Alfian Rosli.

Ariff had been on a scholarship programme in Ireland when his family lost contact with him three years ago.

He was recently located after photographs of his civil partnership ceremony with an Irishman surfaced online.

Norizan Ali, chairman of the Kepong Islamic Youth Organisation said: “We are making the police report in the name of the Malays against a Malay youth who disgraced the name of our country, religion and race.”

He added: “Malaysian Muslims must adhere to the Islamic laws and our country’s laws even when they are abroad.”

In November, it was reported that two Malaysian states were considering a change in their Islamic laws to make it more likely that Muslims would suffer under both federal and regional anti-gay legislation.