Kuala Lumpur: A lawyer for Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was charged with sedition on Tuesday for comments alleging that his client`s controversial conviction on a sodomy charge was politically motivated.
The charge against N Surendran, also an opposition parliamentarian and vice president of Anwar`s political party, was immediately denounced by rights groups as a further betrayal of the government`s vow to scrap the tough sedition law.
Prime Minister Najib Razak made the pledge in 2012 as part of broader election promises to relax his now 57-year-old government`s authoritarian ways.
But his government continues to use the law regularly, typically against government critics who call it a campaign to stifle dissent.
Surendran pleaded not guilty.
The charge relates to comments he made in April criticising Anwar`s conviction a month earlier for sodomy, Surendran`s lawyer Latheefa Koya said.
Anwar was convicted in March of sodomising a young former male political aide and sentenced to five years in jail. He denies the charge and is free on appeal.
Anwar accuses the government of manipulating the courts in a long-term conspiracy to blacken his name and halt the growing momentum of the opposition alliance he leads.
"My lawyer has the right and the duty to speak of Najib`s involvement in the... conspiracy to jail me," Anwar said in a statement.
Najib has previously admitted meeting with Anwar`s sodomy accuser, Mohamad Saiful Bukhari Azlan, shortly before the original charges were filed. But he denies orchestrating the sodomy charges.
Najib`s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sodomy, even if consensual, is a crime in Muslim-majority Malaysia punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
Human Rights Watch criticised Surendran`s sedition charge, which carries a maximum jail term of three years, as part of a "government campaign to systematically pursue its political opponents using trumped-up charges".
In a statement, the group`s Asia deputy director Phil Robertson called Najib`s promise to scrap the sedition law "hollow rhetoric" meant to deceive the public.
Najib`s office maintains it plans to replace the sedition law but has given no timeframe.