Pic: AP.

Facing an internal crisis and weakened from scandal, UMNO seeks to gag opponents, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen

The Sept. 2 decision by Malaysian authorities to charge University of Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom with sedition represents the latest development as the government seeks to hamstring its opponents using the law, critics say.

Eight top opposition figures have been charged with sedition in the past few weeks, with some of the charges relating to speeches made as long as two years ago. Azmi was told he would be charged over an article he wrote on Aug. 14 comparing a 2009 constitutional crisis in Perak state with the current impasse over replacing the chief minister in Selangor.

Students at the university were angered over the charges, calling them an attack on intellectual freedom. They planned to protest the move.

While Azmi is outspoken, he is not known to be an opposition figure or a party member, but he is the latest to face the sedition threat, apparently because something in the article he wrote offended the powerful. This despite Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s promise to do away with the sedition law in 2012. Najib also promised to do away with the country’s draconian Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial, only to shepherd a bill through Parliament that retained many of the act’s provisions.

However, the feeling among legal sources in Kuala Lumpur is that an injured United Malays National Organization, dogged by a long list of corruption scandals and faced by an attack on Najib by the octogenarian former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has adopted the strategy to attempt to cripple the opposition as a political force as much as possible.

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