KUALA LUMPUR - Prominent Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was charged Tuesday, May 22, for his role in protests demanding electoral reforms, a move that is seen as aiming to strip the firebrand opponent from his right to stand in elections.
We will fight, Anwar, 64, told reporters as he left the court in the capital, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
This is political intimidation, added the leader of People's Justice Party (PKR).Muslim Scholars Ban Malaysia Protests
Mass protests erupted in the capital Kuala Lumpur last month calling for electoral reforms.
But the protests, called for by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), turned chaotic when riot police tried to disperse the protestors after breaching police barricades.
Authorities charged Anwar and two members of his opposition party of violating the Peaceful Assembly Act, which governs public gatherings and a court order that banned last month's protests.
The charges come just four months after the opposition leader was acquitted of sodomy in a long-running trial.
Since his stunning 1998 ouster as deputy prime minister in a power struggle with his boss Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar has spent much of his time either imprisoned on or fighting charges he views as politically motivated.
Earlier this month, the National Fatwa Council issued a fatwa banning mass protests in Malaysia, a move criticized by the opposition as an attempt to muzzle citizens.
The opposition leader accused the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak of orchestrating the charges to remove him from the political process.
"Najib is afraid to face me in elections, the charismatic leader said.
I want to tell Najib not to use the courts and the flawed (assembly) law passed in parliament to intimidate political opponents."
The new charges have triggered fresh criticism of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which was passed late last year amid strong criticism from the opposition and human rights groups.
Najib has argued that the act guarantees the right of citizens to assemble publicly, but it bans street protests, and critics say it places a range of crippling curbs on other gatherings.
Human Rights Watch called on the Malaysian government to withdraw the charges against the opposition leader and amend the assembly act.
"The best way to reform the Peaceful Assembly Act is to repeal it and draft a new law," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for the rights group, said in a statement.
"The government needs to go back to the drawing board."Malaysia's parliamentary elections are due in 2013, but expectations are high that the polls could be called much earlier.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net