Malaysian police arrested the eldest daughter of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for alleged sedition on Monday, a move slammed by critics as a crackdown on dissent.
Nurul Izzah Anwar, a lawmaker and a vice president of her father's People's Justice Party, was to be detained overnight because of a speech she made last week in Parliament, said Fahmi Fadzil, the party's communications director.
Police did not specify which part of the speech — which questioned Anwar's jailing — was seditious, and told Nurul Izzah's family that the detention was to facilitate investigations, Fahmi said.
Fahmi said the arrest was "ridiculous and outrageous," noting that lawmakers have immunity over comments made in Parliament. He said the move was intended to silence the opposition after Anwar was jailed for five years last month, when he lost a final appeal against a sodomy conviction.
Anwar's family condemned the arrest, saying it was "nothing short of intimidation and an abuse of power." Nurul Izzah went to police voluntarily to give a statement about an opposition rally she participated in earlier this month, said her sister Nurul Nuha Anwar.
"We maintain that the arrest of our sister is illegal and unconstitutional. We deplore the glaring selective persecution," Nurul Nuha said in a family statement, calling for the release of her sister.
Anwar's arrest was widely seen at home and abroad as politically motivated to eliminate any threat to the ruling coalition, whose popularity has slowly been eroding since 2008 after more than five decades of unquestioned dominance. Anwar and his three-member opposition alliance were seen as the most potent political threat to Prime Minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition.
Anwar led his alliance to unprecedented gains in 2008 elections and made further inroads in 2013 polls. Najib's National Front coalition won with a slimmer majority, and lost the popular vote to the opposition.
New York-based Human Rights Watch slammed Nurul Izzah's arrest. "Prime Minister Najib needs to recognize that every sedition arrest of an opposition political leader is another step towards the destruction of rights-respecting democracy in Malaysia, and bring this campaign of abuse to an end," Phil Robertson, the group's deputy Asia director, said in a statement.
The Associated Press