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Malaysia opposition lawmaker charged with sedition

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia >> Malaysian prosecutors charged an opposition lawmaker with sedition Monday after he allegedly insulted a royal figure amid a struggle for political control of the country’s wealthiest state.

The prosecution increases tensions between Prime Minister Najib Razak’s federal government and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s three-party alliance, which took power in central Selangor state and several other key territories in 2008 national elections.

Najib’s ruling coalition and the opposition have repeatedly sought to undermine each other’s influence in Selangor amid speculation that Najib will call for snap polls by early 2012.

The latest dispute involves the appointment of a Selangor administrative official endorsed by the federal government and the state’s constitutional ruler, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, despite the objections of Anwar’s alliance.

Shuhaimi Shafiei, a Selangor state lawmaker in the alliance, was charged in a district court Monday with sedition after he posted a statement on his blog last December that allegedly criticized the sultan over the appointment.

He faces three years in prison if convicted. The court scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 28.

Shuhaimi is the latest in a string of opposition politicians charged in recent years for offenses such as holding public demonstrations without police approval. Anwar is on trial for allegedly sodomizing a male former aide and faces a maximum 20-year sentence. He claims the charge is part of a government conspiracy, but Najib has denied it.

“There is no doubt that (Shuhaimi’s) prosecution is politically motivated,” said his lawyer and party colleague, N. Surendran. “It’s meant to intimidate and oppress opposition members.”

Government lawyers could not immediately be contacted.

Shuhaimi, who has denied insulting the sultan, would lose his seat in the Selangor legislature and be barred from running for office for several years if he is convicted and sentenced to a year or more in prison.

Under Malaysian law, acts that provoke hatred against royal rulers are considered seditious. Only a few people have been charged with the crime in recent years, including another opposition politician who was eventually acquitted. Nine Malaysian states have sultans and other royal figures who command wide respect after centuries of hereditary rule.

 

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