KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is the latest figure being targeted in a government crackdown on free speech that has sparked deep fears for civil liberties and the rule of law, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Authorities have opened a sedition investigation into 67-year-old Anwar, attorney Latheefa Koya said. He is to be questioned Friday by authorities, his party added in a statement.
That would make Anwar – who already is appealing a highly controversial March sodomy conviction that threatens to end his political career – the highest-profile person snared in a sedition dragnet that has seen new charges emerge on a weekly basis.
“Anwar Ibrahim has become the latest target in the string of people being charged for sedition,” Latheefa said.
The sedition probe centres on comments he allegedly made during a 2011 political speech, his People’s Justice Party said, without specifying the offending remarks. AFP was unable to immediately confirm the claim with police.
The government, which has a history of authoritarian tactics, has stepped up its use of the British colonial-era sedition law since it lost the popular vote in elections last year.
The Sedition Act outlaws speech that incites hatred of the government or racial hostility, but critics say it is too vague and ripe for abuse.
The ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) clung to power in last year’s polls, but the opposition won nearly 51 per cent of the vote – a historic rebuke for a party that has ruled since independence in 1957. The ensuing crackdown is widely viewed as a desperate bid by UMNO to harass the increasingly successful opposition.