Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today said it was "unacceptable" for the new government to call for police action against those who criticise the prime minister, adding that the premier holds no special status at law and cannot lawfully call on the police to defend his reputation.
"It would be an abuse of power for the prime minister to order police investigations into people who make accusations against him, as he is an interested party," LFL director Zaid Malek said.
In a statement, he said that if Anwar Ibrahim felt aggrieved by adverse comments, he should file a defamation suit in a civil court.
"The job of the police is to prevent crime, not to protect the PM from insult or criticism," he said.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) was reported as saying on Monday that it would take legal action against anyone linking its leaders to Israeli agents while PKR information chief Fahmi Fadzil said Anwar had asked the police to act on seditious remarks.
Noting that PH had been on the receiving end of such police action during Najib Razak's tenure as prime minister, Zaid said the coalition had always taken the position that it was untenable for the premier to use the police force to silence critics.
"Police intervention can only be justified where offenders make statements which incite harm, violence or injury to the public," he said.
"In a functioning democracy, police action cannot be taken against politicians or critics for issuing objectionable or insulting or false statements against anyone, including the prime minister."
Adding that it would be a "slippery slope towards authoritarianism" if the police were to initiate criminal probes into every accusation or insult to the prime minister, he said Anwar should instead proceed with the defamation action already begun against Baling MP Hassan Saad for allegedly calling him an agent of Israel.
"This new coalition government must avoid the pitfalls and excesses of previous governments if they truly want to empower free speech and a robust democratic culture.
"No matter how objectionable or insulting the speech may be, criminal action cannot be the response. That is how we foster a healthy democracy," he said.