KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Police released the publisher of a Malaysian media group and a senior executive on bail on Wednesday, after earlier detaining them on suspicion of sowing sedition through a news report published last month.
Scores of people have been detained under the Sedition Act, which dates back to British colonial times, since the imprisonment of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in February.
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s coalition government has faced mounting criticism also over its handling of the economy and corruption in state-run investment fund, 1MDB.
Police have targeted opposition politicians - including Anwar’s daughter - lawyers, journalists and political and social activists, as conservatives in Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party have pushed a more hardline approach.
The spate of arrests marked the biggest crackdown since the country’s long time leader and strongman, Mahathir Mohamad, retired in 2003.
The arrest of senior media executives this week was over an article published on the The Malaysian Insider web portal on March 25 that said the Conference of Rulers had rejected a proposal to amend a federal law that could allow the use of strict Islamic punishment, or hudud, in Malaysia.
An official representing the Conference of Rulers - comprising the sultans of nine Malay states and governors of four other states - filed a police report on March 26, denying that they had discussed or ruled on the issue.
The youth wing of UMNO in Kedah - the home state of Mahathir - also filed a police complaint over the report, media reports said.
Police officials did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment. It was unclear whether any charges would be brought on the media executives.
Publisher and group CEO of The Edge Media Group, Ho Kay Tat, and chief executive of the group’s The Malaysian Insider news portal, Jahabar Sadiq, were released early on Wednesday, about 24 hours after they were arrested.
The police did not ask for a remand for Ho and Jahabar, the company’s lawyer Syahredzan Johan said.
“The investigating officer decided that most of the investigation was done,” he said.
Three other editors of The Malaysian Insider were arrested on Monday in connection with same news report, and later released on bail after the magistrate rejected a remand application by the police.
Earlier on Wednesday, Malaysia also rejected a petition seeking a royal pardon for jailed opposition leader Anwar, who is serving a five-year prison term for sodomy, a charge that he said was politically motivated.
Reporting by Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah; writing by Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore