KUALA LUMPUR: A prominent Malaysian opposition politician was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in jail on Monday for leaking a classified document on a corruption scandal involving the prime minister.
The conviction of Rafizi Ramli, who has a record of exposing government corruption, was sharply criticized by the opposition and rights groups as a worrying use of a state-secrets law.
Rafizi was convicted of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act by revealing parts of an Auditor-General’s report into the scandal swirling around the state-owned fund 1MDB.
Prime Minister Najib Razak is fighting allegations that billions of dollars were looted from 1MDB, which he founded in 2009. The case has sparked investigations in several countries including the United States.
The Auditor-General’s report had been declared a state secret by the government, drawing accusations from critics that the unprecedented move was part of a cover-up.
Rafizi, a parliament member and vice-president of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party) plans to appeal.
If the conviction is not set aside on appeal, he would be ruled out of elections due within the next 18 months.
Rafizi has long been a thorn in the side of the ruling coalition, which has controlled Malaysia since independence in 1957, repeatedly exposing government malfeasance.
“The conviction and sentence will create a dangerous chill on free speech and result in a more repressive, opaque and unaccountable government,” the Malaysian legal activist group Lawyers for Liberty said in a statement.
Najib, who denies any wrongdoing, has cracked down on critics to contain the scandal and last year brought domestic investigations to a halt.
Human Rights Watch said Rafizi’s conviction “can have only one purpose: to intimidate whistle-blowers into silence over the 1MDB corruption scandal.” AFP