A Malaysian court on Friday sentenced a student activist to 10 months in jail for sedition, with the government increasingly using tough colonial-era legislation to stifle dissent despite promises to repeal the law.
The guilty verdict against Safwan Anang, 24, follows a recent wave of charges under the Sedition Act, including three opposition legislators in the past two weeks and a respected university lecturer on Tuesday.
Rights group Amnesty International has called on the Southeast Asian nation to end its “alarming use” of the law, which Prime Minister Najib Razak had pledged to repeal in 2012.
A Kuala Lumpur district court sentenced Safwan to 10 months in jail, his group Student Solidarity Malaysia said in a tweet. The court allowed him to remain free pending appeal.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail.
Safwan was found guilty of sedition for a speech he made that allegedly encouraged people to topple the government after divisive polls in May last year.
Najib’s coalition, which has ruled the country since independence in 1957, lost the popular vote for the first time in a general election last year but managed to retain control of parliament through what critics described as gerrymandering.
Amnesty International said at least 15 people had been charged or investigated under the Sedition Act this year.
Government officials have dismissed accusations of launching a crackdown.
Police on Thursday questioned reporter Susan Loone for nine hours over an article she had written based on an interview with an opposition politician who complained about police treatment in detention.
She was released late Thursday pending further investigations.
Amnesty International has said the government is “fostering a climate of repression”.
“The use of the law – increasingly against individuals simply expressing political, religious and other views – is creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the country,” the rights group said in a statement Friday.
Malaysia’s opposition said Wednesday that it had planned a series of protests to urge the government to drop all sedition charges and repeal the law.
Najib had promised to abolish the act as part of a drive to claw back sliding support, but the reforms have lost momentum amid a pushback from conservative hardliners in his party.