A MALAYSIAN court has sentenced a prominent Malaysian opposition lawmaker — who has a reputation as a whistleblower — to 18 months’ jail for releasing a classified document on the controversial 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.
A rights group slammed the jail sentence as a “dangerous chill” on free speech that could lead to a more repressive and unaccountable government.
Rafizi Ramli, vice president of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), was found guilty by the court on Monday on two charges of violating the Official Secrets Act by possessing and disclosing part of a government audit report on the indebted 1MDB fund, founded by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Rafizi, who often makes allegations on alleged government wrongdoing, said he will appeal. He risks being disqualified from running in the next general elections due in 2018.
I am not shocked, sad, angry, afraid or anything. No such feelings. Just another day. Been like this. What doesn't kill u makes u stronger
— Rafizi Ramli (@rafiziramli) November 14, 2016
The sessions court judge Zulqarnain Hassan said the lawmaker will serve the 18-month jail sentence concurrently for the two charges, Free Malaysia Today reported.
Malaysia’s constitution bars a person from being a parliamentarian for five years if he or she is sentenced to more than on year in prison or fined more than RM2,000.
SEE ALSO: Don’t forget 1MDB just yet
Responding to the verdict, Rafizi said, however, that he will continue doing the work of parliamentarian to the best of his abilities.
“The verdict is not at all unexpected, I would have gotten the shock of my life if I was acquitted today, so it’s as expected and I could have seen it from the very beginning – judging by how quick the process has taken place,” he told reporters outside the courtroom.
Rafizi, in pointing out the short duration it took for him to be convicted, said he was arrested in early April and the case concluded in October.
He said he believed that he had strong grounds to appeal the verdict and sentencing and his lawyers were working immediately to take the case to the the higher courts.
“Yet at the same time I am realistic enough to understand that this is a political case and therefore unless and until the leadership of the judiciary, not only consider themselves as being independent, but be seen and convinced by the public that they are independent,” he said.
Rafizi going to jail isn't going to change the FACTS exposed in 1MDB trials in US, Switzerland, UK and Singapore (few other countries soon)
— Asrul Muzaffar (@asrulmm) November 14, 2016
Rafizi was charged with leaking a page from the 1MDB audit report during a press conference in March despite the government’s move to place the document under the Official Secrets Act.
The sovereign fund, known as 1MDB, was created in 2009 by Prime Minister Najib Razak to promote economic development projects.
1MDB is currently the subject of numerous multi-agency probes across the world, as well as a civil lawsuit filed recently by the United States’ Department of Justice (DoJ).
According to U.S. prosecutors, fund officials have diverted more than US$3.5 billion through a web of shell companies and bank accounts abroad.
Despite the allegations, Najib, who chairs the fund, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing in the handling of 1MDB, from which hundreds of millions dollars were found deposited in his personal bank accounts.
Anti-government dissidents in Malaysia have been campaigning long and hard against Najib, who they believe is corruptly involved in the 1MDB scandal.
On Nov 19, the nation’s largest protest movement known as the Coalition of Free and Fair elections is expected to hold a mass rally calling for Najib’s resignation.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press