KUALA LUMPUR: A Malaysian court on Wednesday charged four people with sedition as part of what critics have decried as a crackdown on accusations that the government cheated to win recent elections.
The allegations, repeated in a series of opposition-organized rallies drawing tens of thousands of people around the country, have added pressure on Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was already smarting from a disappointing polls win.
The four men charged on Wednesday—opposition politicians Tian Chua and Tamrin Ghafar, and two activists—pleaded not guilty in a Kuala Lumpur district court.
Sedition carries a prison term of up to three years.
They were charged with making “seditious” statements by calling for protests against the May 5 elections, Chua’s lawyer Surendran said.
Their comments were made during a post-election public forum.
“It’s a completely groundless charge. It seems to be punishing free speech,” said Surendran, who is also vice president of the People’s Justice Party headed by Anwar Ibrahim.
Anwar had led a three-party opposition against the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition that has ruled Malaysia since independence in 1957.
“This is part of a wider campaign by the Prime Minister and the home minister to silence opposition to election fraud,” Surendran added.
The opposition has accused Barisan of illegally enlisting immigrant workers as voters and introducing supposedly indelible ink—mean to prevent multiple voting—that washed off easily, among other allegations.
Najib has denied any wrongdoing.
The opposition has since launched a broad campaign to portray Najib as an illegitimate ruler and force substantive electoral reforms, including a complete overhaul of an Election Commission it says is biased.