Malaysia anti-graft activist harassed by govt: Amnesty

Members of various NGOs, including Bersih’s Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan (front row, centre), gather in support of Suaram in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR - Rights group Amnesty International Wednesday accused Malaysian authorities of persecuting activists pressing a huge corruption and murder case allegedly linked to Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Opposition leaning human rights organisation Suaram has alleged that a kickback worth $160 million was paid to a company linked to Abdul Razak Baginda, an associate of Najib, for a $1.1-billion submarine purchase in 2002.

Abdul Razak has been acquitted of charges of abetting the 2006 murder of his mistress, Mongolian interpreter Altantuya Shaariibuu, which was linked to the submarine deal inked when Najib was defence minister.

At the request of Suaram, French judicial officials opened an investigation in March 2010 into the sale of the two Scorpene submarines, which were made by French shipbuilder giant DCNS.

Najib has denied any link to that case. The Malaysian government has also maintained that the submarine deal was free of graft.

But Amnesty said in a statement that harassment of Suaram has increased over the past year with one of its prominent members, Cynthia Gabriel, being investigated by police for sedition.

Gabriel was questioned Wednesday for comments made at a July 19 dinner to raise funds for their work on the corruption allegations.

She was quizzed under the Sedition Act, which criminalises a wide array of activities, leading critics to accuse the government of using it to persecute opponents.

"It sends a chilling message to human rights defenders in the country, and must end," Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International's deputy Asia Pacific director, said of the use of the law against Suaram.

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