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Malaysian authorities have detained two anti-government figures and charged a student activist with sedition, renewing the debate surrounding the government’s use of the law.
Adam Adli Halim, 24, was charged under the Sedition Act over a statement made at a public post-election forum on May 13, and had been held in custody for five days until he was released on bail on Thursday, his lawyer Fadiah Nadwa Fikri said.
The student apparently called for people to “go down to the streets to seize back our power” while addressing the forum.
Opposition activists have staged numerous peaceful demonstrations since the May 5 general elections, which the National Front coalition won with a weakened parliamentary majority.
They insist the coalition, which has governed since 1957, retained power through bogus ballots and other irregularities, but Prime Minister Najib Razak and electoral authorities deny manipulating the results.
The latest arrests involve Tian Chua, a senior official in opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party, and Haris Ibrahim, a rights activist who leads an anti-government group.
Mailk Imtiaz, a lawyer, said a third politician had been detained, but did not have any further details. The Kuala Lumpur police chief declined to comment.
Both men have criticised the National Front at political gatherings since the elections.
Police have previously said they are investigating those who challenge the government over the fraud claims.
The Sedition Act is widely criticised as a method of oppressing democratic dissent, to the extent that Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged last year to repeal it.
Malaysian activists and the opposition have dismissed Najib’s moves to amend a series of security laws to guarantee greater civil liberties as window-dressing to appease voters.
Fadiah heavily criticised the use of the act against his client.
“It’s clearly still being used to stifle dissent,” Fadiah told AFP news agency. “The law is open to abuse … it’s an infringement to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”
Amnesty International, human rights group, has also gone on record as being against the law.
“The Malaysian authorities must ensure that peaceful political dissent is protected both in law and practice,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.”
On his arrest, Tian Chua tweeted that Malaysians should not allow themselves to be “overtaken by fear [but should] continue to assemble peacefully and have faith”.
Adam, who became publicly known in 2011 when he brought down a flag with Najib’s portrait at the ruling party’s headquarters during a demonstration, faces three years in prison and a fine if convicted.