Malaysian police have detained a cartoonist and are investigating two legislators for sedition over tweets and a cartoon condemning the judiciary for upholding opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s final appeal against a sodomy conviction.
Police detained Zulkiflee Anwar Alhaque, better known as Zunar, at his home late on Tuesday over a series of tweets on Anwar’s case.
A cartoon he posted on Twitter showed Najib Razak, Malaysian prime minister, as the judge in Anwar’s case.
Cartoon Zunar: PM Najib is the judge! pic.twitter.com/3FbAZQwxVm
— Zunar Cartoonist (@zunarkartunis) February 10, 2015
Khalid Abu Bakar, national police chief, also directed his men to investigate opposition parliament members Nga Kor Ming and Rafizi Ramli for sedition.
Nga said on Twitter that it was time for the people to oppose a cruel regime, while Rafizi posted on Twitter a cartoon of a judge wearing a white wig with the dollar sign on it.
Anwar, 67, began a five-year prison sentence on Tuesday after the country’s top court ruled there was overwhelming evidence showing that he sodomised a former male aide.
The case was widely seen as politically motivated to eliminate any threats to the ruling coalition, whose popularity has been eroding after more than five decades of unquestioned dominance.
Erosion of freedom of expression
The police moves were criticised by rights groups, with New York-based Human Rights Watch saying it was shameful that Malaysian authorities had turned peaceful criticism into a criminal act.
“Clearly it is designed to intimidate and instil fear in people on social media to go silent on their views. It is a further erosion of freedom of expression in Malaysia,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, said.
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Anwar has been the most vocal and visible symbol of the opposition’s resurgence and is seen as the most potent political threat to Najib.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Nurul Izzah, Anwar’s daughter and a member of parliament, said that her father “is a victim of a grand political conspiracy.
On Wednesday, Nurul and her five siblings launched a March to Freedom campaign to support their father.
Anwar was accused of sodomising Saiful Bukhari Azlan, then 23, who was working as a lowly aide in the opposition campaign office in 2008.
Homosexuality is a crime in Malaysia punishable by up to 20 years in prison and by whipping, although prosecutions are rare.
Anwar was acquitted by the High Court in 2012 but the Appeals Court overturned the acquittal in March.
Anwar appealed in Federal Court, but lost the battle on Tuesday.
The US, UK, Australia and the EU expressed concern over Anwar’s jailing, with the White House saying the trial raised serious concerns about rule of law and the fairness of the judicial system in Malaysia.
Anwar previously was imprisoned for six years after being removed as deputy prime minister in 1998.
That case was also widely seen as politically motivated, as it came at a time when he was locked in a power struggle with Mahathir Mohamad, the then-prime minister.