Malaysian opposition leader questioned by police

KUALA LUMPUR Sat May 30, 2009 1:59pm IST

Malaysian main opposition leader Lim Kit Siang stand outside parliament house in Kuala Lumpur in this July 29, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim/Files

Malaysian main opposition leader Lim Kit Siang stand outside parliament house in Kuala Lumpur in this July 29, 2004 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Zainal Abd Halim/Files

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's police questioned a prominent opposition leader and two activists who accused the Prime Minister of clamping down on dissent, which activists said showed that democratic rights were being eroded.

Police quizzed veteran MP Lim Kit Siang of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) on Saturday after a police report was lodged accusing him of defamation and sedition following comments about the country's new prime minister, Najib Razak.

Police also questioned an activist and a senior member of the People's Justice Party, another party in the opposition alliance, following similar reports of sedition and defamation lodged against them.

Around 160 anti-government protesters have been arrested this month, according to the opposition, mostly related to a battle for control of Perak, where the national ruling coalition toppled the opposition alliance from power in the northeastern state.

"I said that Najib must be held responsible for the Perak crisis and the ensuing turmoil, and that in the past few months one national institution after another has lost public confidence and credibility ... this has apparently been deemed seditious," Lim told Reuters when contacted.

The national news agency Bernama quoted the police chief in Penang, where the offences allegedly occurred, as saying the three individuals were being investigated for making seditious speeches during campaigning for a by-election in the state.

POLITICAL FLASHPOINT

The fight for Perak, peninsular Malaysia's second-largest state, began in February when the ruling National Front government wrested it from the opposition through defections widely believed to be orchestrated by Najib before he became premier in April.

The three-party People's Alliance opposition mounted an ongoing legal challenge against the takeover, prolonging a dispute that threatens to spread nationwide.

One DAP MP has already been charged with sedition while police last week raided the party's headquarters and seized computers, both in relation to the Perak tussle.

The activists who have been arrested this month for open displays of support towards the opposition in Perak -- among others by holding candle-light vigils -- have all been released.

"Police action has become increasing high-handed and one-sided ... this is not the way to go," said Cynthia Gabriel from Voice of the Malaysian People human rights group.

"The government must recognise that it would not augur well for them to charge people under the Sedition Act or other laws that are draconian in nature," Gabriel added.

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