[JURIST] Malaysian opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim [personal profile; JURIST news archive] was charged Tuesday along with two colleagues for violating a government protest ban. They face charges for violating the recently passed Peaceful Assembly Act [text, PDF] by participating in a large-scale demonstration last month to demand electoral reforms. Anwar, who was acquitted of sodomy charges [JURIST report] in January, claims these new charges are politically motivated [AP report] to prevent him from preparing for national elections that may occur next fall. Groups such as Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] have called for the charges to be dropped [press release]. A hearing is Scheduled for July 2.
In December a UN panel of independent human rights experts warned that the Peaceful Assembly Act would severely curtail [JURIST report] citizens' right to peaceably assemble. In November Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak [official profile] defended the law [JURIST report], saying it would balance citizens' right to protest with public safety concerns. However, it has drawn ire from both Malaysians and the international community. Anwar himself has stated that the bill is more draconian than previous free speech crackdowns in Zimbabwe and Myanmar [JURIST reports].