KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian police on Tuesday freed the daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim after a night in detention over comments in parliament deemed “contemptuous” of the country’s judiciary.
Anwar, who long posed the greatest threat to Malaysia’s long-ruling coalition, is serving a five-year prison term after the country’s highest court last month rejected his appeal against a conviction for sodomy.
The ruling party’s rising star in the mid-1990s before he fell out with then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar denied the charge that led to his second conviction for sodomy as a fabrication aimed at ending his political career.
Police released his daughter Nurul Izzah, an MP of the People’s Justice Party, on bail, but may summon her anytime within the next month. She was not charged with sedition, a party representative said, clarifying earlier comments.
“My arrest is a blatant abuse of power by none other than the inspector-general of police, and I hold the prime minister, Najib Razak, responsible for allowing transgressions against parliamentarians,” Nurul Izzah said after her release.
Her detention had prompted the U.S. State Department to remark that it was “deeply concerned”, and that recent charges of sedition against government critics had raised serious concerns about freedom of expression, rule of law, and the independence of the judicial system in Malaysia.
Malaysia’s Sedition Act, which dates from British colonial times, criminalizes speech with an undefined “seditious tendency.” Critics have said the government has used the law to silence dissent, preventing open debate and discussion.
Police said Nurul Izzah’s arrest was prompted by her “contemptuous remarks” last week, when she told parliament “those in the judiciary system had sold their souls to the devil”, in a reference to Anwar’s conviction.
The arrest also aimed to help police investigations into a rally this month in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement.
Constitutional guarantees of criminal immunity for lawmakers do not cover the Sedition Act, Malaysian lawyers say.
“Parliamentary immunity does not extend to alleged offences under the Sedition Act,” said one lawyer, Syahredzan Johan.
“But there’s the more important argument that you need to detain her overnight, when all you wanted to do was record her statement.”
Last November, Najib strengthened the law to protect the sanctity of Islam and Malaysia’s traditional rulers, despite a 2012 pledge to repeal it.
The government says it is necessary to tackle inflammatory actions that could stir ethnic or religious tension in the multi-racial country.
Reporting by Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah and Anuradha Raghu; Editing by Clarence Fernandez