A Malaysian court on Friday sentenced a student activist to 10 months in jail for Nike Roshe Run sedition, with the government increasingly using tough colonial era legislation to stifle dissent despite promises to repeal the law.
The guilty verdict against Safwan Anang, 24, follows a recent wave of charges under the Sedition Act, including three opposition politicians in the past two weeks and a respected university lecturer on Tuesday.
Rights group Amnesty International called on the Southeast Asian nation to end its ‘alarming use’ of the law, while dozens of students staged a protest on Friday to urge Prime Minister Najib Razak to honour his 2012 pledge to repeal the act.
A Kuala Lumpur district court sentenced Safwan to 10 months in jail, group Student Solidarity Malaysia said in a tweet. The court allowed him to remain free pending appeal.
The offence carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail.
Safwan was found guilty of sedition for a speech he made that allegedly encouraged people to topple the government after divisive polls in May last year.
Najib’s coalition, which has ruled the country since independence in 1957, lost the popular vote for the first time in a general election last year but managed to retain control of parliament through what critics described as gerrymandering.
In a noisy protest on Friday outside the Home Ministry in the administrative capital of Putrajaya, about 60 students called on the government to abolish the Sedition Act.
‘The Sedition Act is not relevant. It’s used selectively. It’s not fair,’ said Wan Nur Syamimi Nike Free Run Wan Sajiri, a 22 year old student leader.
More than 110 NGOs also formed a coalition on Friday to urge the government to repeal the act and drop all existing charges.
Malaysia’s opposition is also planning a series of protests.
Amnesty International said at least 15 people had been charged or investigated under the Sedition Act this year, accusing the government of ‘fostering a climate of repression’.
Government officials have dismissed accusations of launching a crackdown.
Police on Thursday questioned reporter Susan Loone for nine hours over an article she had written based on an interview with an opposition politician who complained about police treatment in detention.
Loone, who works for independent online news portal Malaysiakini, was released late on Thursday.
Najib had promised to abolish the act as part of a drive to claw back sliding support but the reforms have lost momentum amid a pushback from conservative hardliners in his party.
His office insists the government is still working on drafting alternative ‘comprehensive, fair and lasting’ legislation against hate Nike Roshe Run speech to replace the Sedition Act, expected to be ready by the end of 2015.