A Malaysian opposition leader was charged with sedition yesterday for allegedly insulting a royal figure, a day after his son was suspended from parliament for calling the next prime minister a murderer.
The opposition expressed fears the government was on a political witch hunt.
Karpal Singh pleaded innocent to the charge of insulting Sultan Azlan Shah of the northern Perak state on Feb. 6 during a news conference.
“Obviously it is politically motivated. There can be no doubt about that,” Singh, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party, told reporters before entering court.
Singh, a member of parliament and prominent lawyer, was freed on bail. No date has been set for the trial.
The charge stems from a tussle for power in Perak, which used to be governed by a three-party alliance that includes the Democratic Action Party, following the elections in March last year. Earlier this year, however, three of its Perak state legislators defected, tipping the balance in favor of the ruling National Front coalition.
The sultan of Perak then fired the alliance’s administration and asked the National Front to lead the state. The sultans are hereditary and titular rulers of nine of Malaysia’s 13 states. They play a largely ceremonial role in politics.
Prosecutors said Singh insulted the sultan and committed sedition by questioning the sultan’s mandate to appoint a new administration without for calling a vote of confidence in the state parliament.
Singh had said the sultan could be sued for his actions.
Anwar Ibrahim, who leads the opposition three-party alliance, said the charge against Singh marked the beginning of a government crackdown on the resurgent opposition, which made substantive gains in the March 8 elections.
“I believe that they [the government] will go on a witch hunt against the opposition leaders,” Anwar told reporters at the court.
“This is a malicious prosecution,” he said.
Anwar said Singh was merely giving his legal opinion about the sultan’s powers.
According to Malaysian law, any act that provokes hatred, contempt or disaffection against a state ruler is considered sedition, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
On Monday, Singh’s son, Gobind Singh Deo, was suspended from parliament for one year because he called Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak a murderer in connection with the 2006 slaying of a Mongolian woman. Najib is scheduled to take over as prime minister early next month.
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