KUALA LUMPUR • A Malaysian woman has been charged with insulting scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak by dropping balloons bearing pro-democracy messages near him during a public event.
The case against Bilqis Hijjas - dubbed "Balloongate" on social media - has drawn public ridicule as an example of government overkill in pressuring its critics.
Bilqis, 36, a dance producer, dropped yellow balloons with the words "justice", "democracy" and "media freedom" from an upper floor of a shopping mall while Datuk Seri Najib and his wife were officiating at a function down below.
The incident occurred on Aug 31, one day after tens of thousands of yellow-shirted protesters paralysed the capital Kuala Lumpur with massive demonstrations demanding Mr Najib's ouster over allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
Bilqis is the daughter of prominent architect Hijjas Kasturi who worked for the urban renewal department of the Singapore Housing Board in the 1960s and won an award in 2001 for his work to redevelop Kampong Glam, a district in Singapore that is known for its rich Malay heritage.
While a group of supporters waited outside a Kuala Lumpur court bearing yellow balloons yesterday, Bilqis was charged inside with "insulting behaviour" that could affect public order.
"You can't just say you have insulted someone and charge them in court for dropping balloons," said Bilqis' lawyer Michelle Yesudas, calling the charges "utterly ridiculous".
The penalty for the charge is a mere RM100 (S$30), but Bilqis was contesting it on "principle", Ms Yesudas said. Bilqis was freed on bail.
Mr Najib is under intense fire over allegations of huge sums missing from a state-owned firm he launched, and mysterious transfers of nearly US$700 million (S$994 million) into his own bank accounts.
He has denied wrongdoing but has moved to quash the allegations by sacking officials and going after whistle-blowers.
Critics of Mr Najib's government say it routinely pressures the opposition and other opponents with a range of charges.