Malaysia MP accused of sedition for cursing ruling party

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - An opposition lawmaker was arrested on Wednesday and said he would be charged with sedition for cursing the ruling party while speaking in a legislative assembly, the latest government opponent to be brought to court.

Sanisvara Nethaji Rayer Rajaji triggered protests last month when he called the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) "celaka" - a Malay word meaning "damned" or "accursed" - in comments in the assembly of the northern state of Penang.

He told AFP he was asked to report to police Wednesday and was arrested on arrival before being released on bail.

"I will be charged tomorrow morning for sedition. There is no difference, I stand by what I said and that's it," he said of the remarks that also led to some Umno members invading the state assembly.

Sedition charges have also been brought against other opposition figures.

In other legal moves, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was convicted in March of sodomy in a case he has described as politically motivated to ruin his career.

Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged in 2012 to abolish the Sedition Act as part of promised reforms intended to halt a slide in support for his long-ruling coalition.

But after retaining power with a weak showing in a 2013 election, Najib is believed to be under pressure from disgruntled conservatives in his Muslim ruling party to backtrack on reform.

The government has said it remains committed to replacing the sedition law - which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years - but has given no timeframe.

The former British colony largely follows UK legislative conventions, and statements in parliament and in state assemblies have previously been accorded immunity.

But media quoted the de facto law minister Shahidan Kassim as saying that "you can't run away from the Sedition Act".

"Umno represents the Malays," he was quoted as saying when asked if it was a crime to insult the ruling party.

Malays are the majority community in multiethnic Malaysia.

Rights groups have condemned the repeated use of the Sedition Act and other repressive laws against opposition figures over the past year.

Najib in early June sued, a leading news website known for its often harsh criticism of the long-ruling government.

He claimed he and Umno were defamed by reader comments alleging corruption in the party.

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