KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was charged with participating in an illegal street demonstration, potentially hindering efforts to prepare for elections that could come this year.
Prosecutors accused Anwar, leader of the People’s Justice Party, and two deputies of violating the Peaceful Assembly Act by taking part in an April 28 demonstration in Kuala Lumpur that sought faster changes to the country’s election rules. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 6 months and a fine of 12,000 ringgit (US$3,845), said Anwar’s lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah.
A conviction could disqualify Anwar from running in national elections due to be held by early 2013. The charges come four months after he was acquitted of sodomy, enabling him concentrate on leading the opposition against Prime Minister Najib Razak’s ruling coalition which has ruled the Southeast Asian country for five decades.
Also charged were the party’s deputy president Azmin Ali and its youth leader Badrul Hisham Shaharin. All three pleaded not guilty and were released. “It’s clearly political as the election is around the corner,” Anwar told reporters at the Kuala Lumpur court house.
Police used water cannons last month against demonstrators throwing shoes, bottles and chairs while trying to break through barricades to enter a square where the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, known as Bersih, wanted to hold a sit-in. The government passed legislation banning such protests after police detained more than 1,600 people during a similar rally in July. (Bloomberg/T05/aph)
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