KUALA LUMPUR - The detention of a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) critic and his lawyer since last week and their subsequent prosecution on Monday (Oct 12) has provoked accusations from ruling coalition veterans, including influential former premier Mahathir Mohamad, that the government is abusing the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) 2012 to silence political dissent.
“We see a climate of fear among the people,” Tun Dr Mahathir told reporters on Monday. “The government is now defining the law according to their own needs. We are here to show that we are against the abuse of the law on our country.”
Dr Mahathir has openly called for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to resign over allegations of corruption at 1MDB. The 90-year-old and the other Umno leaders called the news conference in a rare public display of unity to express their concerns.
Also present at the news conference were Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, former deputy prime minister who was sacked in July after criticising Mr Najib over 1MDB; Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal, a vice-president of the ruling Umno party who was also sacked as a minister; party elders Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Sanusi Junid, and Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat, former president of ruling coalition partner Malaysian Chinese Association.
Former Umno branch leader Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang were charged on Monday with attempting to sabotage the Malaysian economy as well as the financial and banking system.
They are accused of committing the offence in France, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Singapore, between June 28 and Aug 26 this year, the Malaysian Insider reported.
Chang had been representing Khairuddin, who was detained last month after he launched a global campaign to highlight alleged graft involving Mr Najib and state investor 1MDB.
No plea were taken when both were brought before magistrate Siti Radziah Kamarudin, as she has no authority to hear the case since it is a security offence under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), according to the news portal.
Dr Mahathir said Sosma is a law targeting terrorists but the government is using it against critics.
"A person accusing another person of breaking the law is now subject to detention. This is extraordinary," he said at the press conference.
Mr Muhyiddin said many in Umno have voiced their concerns on leadership, economy and race relations and these "serious issues need to be addressed".
Chang had earlier released a statement calling their arrests "a heinous tactic" to silence those speaking out "against the tyranny and corruption of the Najib regime", and announced he had gone on a hunger strike.
Mr Najib faces mounting calls to explain massive sums of money allegedly missing from 1MDB, of which he is chief adviser, as well as the revelation in July that nearly US$700 million (S$977 million) in mysterious transfers had been made to his personal bank accounts.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.