Malaysian authorities have opened an investigation into allegedly seditious comments made in 2011 by opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, the latest and most high-profile of more than a dozen people charged or under investigation for the crime.
In a statement, Mr Anwar’s People’s Justice Party said he is to be questioned by authorities on Friday.
Mr Anwar’s attorney, Latheefa Koya, said the sedition blitz, which has rapidly accelerated in recent weeks, is an attack on free speech that has sparked fears for civil liberties and the rule of law.
In the past two weeks, courts have convicted and sentenced two student activists to prison terms of 10 months and one year.
Mr Anwar’s seditious comments were allegedly made during a political speech, his party said, without specifying the offending remarks.
He is already appealing a highly controversial sodomy conviction from March that threatens to end his political career.
In August, one of Mr Anwar’s lawyers, N. Surendran, was charged with the crime following comments alleging his client’s controversial conviction for sodomy was politically motivated.
Political tensions are rising ahead of his October 28 appeal against the five-year sentence, with fears that his jailing could trigger anti-government protests.
The Malaysian government, which has a history of authoritarian tactics, has stepped up its use of the British colonial-era sedition law since it lost the popular vote in elections last year.
The Sedition Act outlaws speech that incites hatred of the government or racial hostility, but critics have said it is too vague and ripe for abuse.
The ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) clung to power in last year’s polls, but the opposition won nearly 51 per cent of the vote in a historic rebuke for a party that has ruled since independence in 1957.
The ensuing crackdown is widely viewed as a desperate bid by UMNO to harass the increasingly successful opposition.
Malaysian civil-society groups and the legal community have demanded that the arrests stop and that prime minister Najib Razak honour an election promise to repeal the Sedition Act.