[KUALA LUMPUR] The daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was released after being arrested and remanded overnight under the Sedition Act for remarks she made in parliament.
Nurul Izzah Anwar, a People's Justice Party lawmaker for the Lembah Pantai area of Kuala Lumpur, was released on police bail around noon Tuesday, R Sivarasa, her lawyer and a parliament member, said in a mobile text message. She was detained on Monday over a speech that criticized her father's imprisonment for sodomy, she said in an interview Monday.
"It's clearly in contradiction of my rights," Nurul Izzah said by phone.
"The speech was made in parliament for the benefit of the rakyat," she said, using a local-language term for ordinary citizens.
Malaysian police have charged at least 14 people under sedition laws since 2013, including opposition lawmakers, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. Prime Minister Najib Razak in November said the government will keep a law that curbs free speech as he backed away from a pledge to repeal legislation he had said represented a "bygone era."
A cartoonist known as Zunar was remanded last month as police investigated his Twitter posts after he commented on the court's conviction of Anwar. Anwar was sentenced to five years in prison after the country's highest court upheld a conviction for sodomy. Anwar berated the judiciary during his sentencing and said he was the target of a political conspiracy, prompting the judges to walk out.
"Nurul Izzah Anwar has been arrested under the sedition act to assist police into the investigation of the Kita Lawan rally and for making contemptuous remarks that the judiciary system had sold their souls to the devil," Khalid Abu Bakar, chief of police, said in a statement late March 16, referring to a pro-Anwar protest held in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month.
"She will be released once her statement has been recorded."
About 500 supporters held a candlelight vigil outside the police station in Kuala Lumpur where Nurul Izzah was held on Monday night to show solidarity, Malaysiakini reported online.
Nurul Izzah's arrest may have unintendedly boosted the disparate opposition group.
The People's Alliance led by Anwar has been wracked by political infighting and its three member parties have yet to work out its leadership succession following Anwar's imprisonment. The multi-ethnic alliance shares little in common apart from a united goal to unseat Najib's coalition, which has ruled for almost six decades.
"The arrest of Nurul Izzah yesterday certainly has galvanized the opposition," said Ibrahim Suffian, a political analyst at the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research in Kuala Lumpur. "This arrest and the perceived unfair treatment that they have been receiving, I think is going to gain them new sympathy and support."
The detention may eventually backfire on Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition as it only serves to re-energize opposition supporters and voters fatigued by political campaigning following the 2013 general election, according to Mr Ibrahim. Increasingly more people are equating the current crackdown on critics with the government's need to keep the lid on dissent as Mr Najib's administration moves to impose an unpopular goods and services tax in a couple of weeks, he said.
"Over the long run it's quite positive for the opposition movement," said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. "It will boost their sentiments, it will boost their feelings of empathy, which would translate into more political support."
Malaysia's sedition law, which dates back to 1948 when the country was under British rule, mandates jail sentences of at least three years for words deemed seditious, including those that "excite dissatisfaction" against the government. Amnesty International and local civil groups had urged Mr Najib to honor his pledge to scrap the law, with Amnesty saying in September that use of the act is fostering a "climate of repression." The US is "deeply concerned" by the detention of Nurul Izzah, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
"The Malaysian Government's recent investigations and charges of sedition against critics raise serious concerns about freedom of expression, rule of law, and the independence of the judicial system in Malaysia," she said. "To further restrict freedom of expression will only lead to further erosion of important pillars of Malaysia's democratic system." Nurul Izzah read a speech by Anwar last Tuesday that spoke out against her father's imprisonment and allegedly attacked the judiciary, the Star newspaper reported on Monday.
Lim Guan Eng, secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party, an ally in Anwar's political group, said the party condemned the abuse of power by the police.
"The police have no reason to detain Nurul Izzah," Mr Lim said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. "She's not a robber or criminal who killed somebody. She's not running away. Why would the police need to detain her overnight?"