March 14 (Bloomberg) -- Tian Chua, a Malaysian opposition leader, said he was charged in court with making seditious comments about the government’s handling of a Muslim insurgency in the country’s eastern Sabah state.
Chua, vice president of Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party, was charged under the Sedition Act, a law enacted under British rule in 1948, which Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged last year to replace to protect free speech. The politician risks being fined as much as 5,000 ringgit ($1,606) or jailed up to three years for a first offence, and five years for subsequent convictions.
“I will fight it out in court,” Chua said in a phone interview, after pleading not guilty in the Sessions Court and being released on bail.
Chua said he was prosecuted for comments made in four media releases after a Muslim army from the Philippines loyal to the Sultan of Sulu invaded the commodities-rich state last month claiming sovereignty. He described a shooting as a planned conspiracy by the government to divert attention, Bernama reported today, citing the statements.
The incident comes weeks before a general election when Najib will seek to extend his government’s 55-years in power.
“The country’s political risk premium rose slightly following the reports,” said Yeah Kim Leng, chief economist at RAM Holdings Bhd. in Kuala Lumpur. “The ringgit could see volatile movements in the short term.”
The ringgit decreased 0.1 percent to 3.1109 per dollar, bringing its decline this year to 1.8 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. One-month implied volatility, a measure of expected moves in the exchange rate used to price options, climbed 9 basis points, or 0.09 percentage point, to 6.64 percent as of 5:32 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur, Bloomberg data showed.
In July, Najib described the Sedition Act as representative of a “bygone era” and said he’d replace it with legislation aimed at preventing incitement of religious or ethnic hatred. The National Harmony Act, which has yet to be passed into law, would balance the right to freedom of expression with ensuring that all races and religions are protected, the prime minister said at the time.
Lim Guan Eng, leader of the opposition Democratic Action Party, was jailed under the Sedition Act in the 1990s after criticizing the government’s handling of rape allegations against a former chief minister.
The government last year repealed the Internal Security Act, first introduced in the 1960s to combat communist insurgents, with new legislation curbing the amount of time police can hold suspects without trial. Najib has also liberalized media licenses after promising to boost personal freedoms, though separately banned street protests.
Nine Malaysian police officers and soldiers and 56 insurgents have been killed in Sabah in fighting since the start of the invasion, Hamza Taib, Sabah’s police chief said yesterday.