KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Prosecutors filed sedition charges Wednesday against another five opposition politicians and activists who urged Malaysians to protest what they insist was a fraud-tainted victory by the long-ruling coalition in recent national elections.
The five and a student activist charged last week had criticized the government while speaking at a political forum earlier this month. They pleaded not guilty to making seditious remarks at the forum, and one, an opposition political official, called the charges an intimidation tactic.
Critics of the government say the charges are intended to deter rallies aimed at pressuring electoral authorities to investigate claims of irregularities in the May 5 polls. Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration has denied unfairly prosecuting the men, saying they flouted a decades-old law meant to preserve public stability.
Malaysia’s three-party opposition alliance has staged many peaceful rallies that have drawn tens of thousands of people since the elections, which Najib’s National Front coalition won with a diminished parliamentary majority.
Najib has rejected accusations that his coalition, which has governed since 1957, relied partly on bogus ballots and illegal voters to cling to power. The National Front won 60 percent of Parliament’s 222 seats but lost the popular vote to Anwar’s alliance.
The five pleaded not guilty in a Kuala Lumpur district court Wednesday and were allowed to remain free on bail. One of the men chose to stay in detention to protest the charge.
Tian Chua, vice president of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party, said the charge against him and the others was “a tactic of intimidation to scare the public.”
They were informed of the sedition investigation last week. Najib’s office said the case stemmed from numerous police complaints and pledged that court proceedings would be “fair and open.”
Sedition as defined by Malaysian law includes promoting hatred against the government. Before the elections, Najib had said the government planned to abolish the Sedition Act, which was introduced during British colonial rule, and replace it with new laws that ensure both free expression and public peace.
The court set a hearing for the five defendants on July 2. All six who are charged face up to three years in prison if convicted.
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