Eight people were charged last week over comments posted on a royal website, under laws banning the transmission of vulgar or threatening comments. A Malaysian opposition leader, Karpal Singh, was also charged with sedition for allegedly insulting a sultan.
In both cases, the sultan in question is the sultan of Perak, Sultan Azlan Shah, who created political turmoil in Perak when he controversially ordered the Pakatan Rakyat state government to quit after defections from their party, and appointed the Barisan Nasional (National Front) to lead the state instead of calling for state elections.
Prosecutors said Singh insulted the sultan and committed sedition by questioning the sultan's mandate to appoint a new administration without calling for a vote of confidence in the state parliament
Singh pleaded innocent to the charge of insulting Sultan Azlan Shah. "Obviously it is politically motivated. There can be no doubt about that," said Singh, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party.
Anwar Ibrahim, who leads the opposition three-party alliance, said the charge against Singh marked the beginning of a government crackdown on the opposition.
"I believe that they (government) will go on a witch hunt against the opposition leaders," Anwar told reporters.
He said Singh was merely giving his legal opinion about the sultan's powers.
According to Malaysian law, any act that provokes hatred, contempt or disaffection against a state ruler is considered sedition, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
Of the eight who were charged last week, one of the eight has already pleaded guilty and has been fined 10,000 ringgit (2,699 dollars) in the first conviction of its kind in the country, while the others face trial after pleading not guilty and up to one year in jail.
They are being charged under Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 with 'improper use of network facilities or service for making comments, requests, suggestions or other communications which are obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character', in what Amnesty International has described as a troubling step backwards in the country’s recognition of freedom of speech.
The International Herald Tribune, Malaysian lawmaker charged with sedition , 17 March 2009,http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2009/03/17/asia/AS-Malaysia-Sedition.php
AFP, Malaysian arrests for insulting sultan criticized, 18 March 2009, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iNhmMIMC8A76iTztEjny1...
The Straits Times, 6 charged for insult, 14 March 2009, http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/SE%2BAsia/Story/STIStory_350...