A lawyer for Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was charged with sedition yesterday for comments alleging that his client's controversial conviction on a sodomy charge was politically motivated.
The charge against N. Surendran, also an opposition parliamentarian and vice-president of Anwar's political party, was denounced by rights groups as a betrayal of the government's vow to scrap the tough sedition law.
Prime Minister Najib Razak made the pledge in 2012 as part of broader election promises to relax his now 57-year-old government's authoritarian ways.
But his government continues to use the law regularly, typically against government critics.
Surendran pleaded not guilty.
The charge relates to comments he made in April criticising Anwar's conviction a month earlier for sodomy, Surendran's lawyer, Latheefa Koya, said.
Anwar was convicted in March of sodomising a young male former political aide and sentenced to five years in jail. He denies the charge and is free pending an appeal.
Anwar accuses the government of manipulating the courts in a long-term conspiracy to blacken his name and halt the growing momentum of the opposition alliance he leads.
"My lawyer has the right and the duty to speak of Najib's involvement in the ... conspiracy to jail me," Anwar said.
Najib has previously admitted meeting Anwar's accuser, Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, shortly before the original charges were filed. But he denies orchestrating the sodomy charges.
Sodomy, even if consensual, is a crime in Malaysia, punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
Mahathir withdraws support for Prime Minister Najib
Former Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad said he was withdrawing his support for Prime Minister Najib Razak, citing worsening race relations and a tougher business environment since the premier took power.
Najib hadn't learned from his poor showing in general elections last year, Mahathir, 89, wrote on his blog. No one else was willing to criticise him, he added.
The ruling coalition led by the Najib's United Malays National Organisation party lost the popular vote for the first time since independence at the 2013 elections even as it retained a parliamentary majority. Najib's predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, stepped down in 2009 with Mahathir at the forefront of calls for his resignation after a poor showing at polls.
Mahathir said his discontent started when Najib abolished internal security laws, which allowed detention without trial. Minimum wage increases imposed by Najib's government had not taken into account costs that were making Malaysian businesses, he added.