Malaysian police detained three government critics for sedition less than three weeks after Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition won re-election, according to Kuala Lumpur Police Chief Mohmad Salleh.
The charges against Tian Chua, vice president of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s party, and two other Najib opponents stem from their participation at a May 13 political forum, Mohmad said, without providing further details. Najib’s 13-party coalition won the May 5 election by 44 seats even after losing the popular vote by four percentage points.
“His talk of a national reconciliation after the recent elections also has proven to be meaningless,” Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, a spokesman for Anwar’s party, said in a statement, referring to Najib. Nik Nazmi was also charged last week, for failing to provide enough notice for a post-election protest.
Anwar has held rallies around the country since the election as he pushes for changes to a voting system that he says has helped the coalition led by Najib’s United Malays National Organisation extend its 55-year rule. The opposition plans to challenge the results in 27 seats, Tian Chua said today before his arrest, according to state-run Bernama.
Tengku Sariffuddin, Najib’s press secretary, confirmed the charges under the Sedition Act.
“I don’t want to get into the politics of it,” he said by phone. “They have been caught up because they said something that was inflammatory under Section 4-1 of the Sedition Act.”
The law, which dates back to 1948 when Malaysia was under British control, mandates jail sentences of at least three years for words deemed seditious, including those that “excite dissatisfaction” against the government.
Besides Tian Chua, who was separately charged with sedition in March, police also arrested Haris Ibrahim, who heads a group called Anything But UMNO, and Tamrin Ghafar, the son of a former deputy prime minister and a member of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, which is in Anwar’s alliance.
Suaram, a human rights organization in Malaysia, said in a statement today that police arrested 18 people who participated in a candlelight vigil yesterday for Adam Adli, a student activist who was arrested last week. They were subsequently released after giving statements, it said.
“These forms of intimidation and harassment are highly unwarranted and oppressive,” the group said.
Najib has yet to make good on a pledge last year to replace the Sedition Act with new legislation that would protect free speech while preventing incitement of religious or ethnic hatred. He said the Sedition Act was representative of a “bygone era.”
Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad yesterday criticized the opposition for holding demonstrations against the election outcome.
“There will always be people who will not agree with the new government, no matter if the government is democratically elected or not,” he wrote on his blog. “The losers in the bid for power will always accuse the winners of cheating and frauds of all kinds.”