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Govt slammed for 'witch-hunt' as farmer charged, calls grow for PM to clear his name in casino saga

The Bloomberg report on the alleged casino plan has sparked an online debate with comments mocking Anwar's government as 'Kasinon'.

3 minute read
Azman Md Yusoff, a farmer from Penang, is the latest to be charged with sedition in connection with the damning report by Bloomberg last week.
Azman Md Yusoff, a farmer from Penang, is the latest to be charged with sedition in connection with the damning report by Bloomberg last week.

Human rights group Suaram has labelled the arrests of government critics in recent days as a witch-hunt as pressure mounts on Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to clear his name over a report alleging that he met with tycoons to discuss a proposal to build Malaysia's second casino.

In the latest arrest, 45-year-old farmer Azman Md Yusof was charged under the Sedition Act for comments he made to a private WhatsApp group citing last week's Bloomberg report. 

This report has sparked a debate on social media, along with memes mocking Anwar's government as "Kasinon", a wordplay from "Madanon", the derogatory term used by opposition supporters for the prime minister's "Madani" slogan.

Azman is accused of questioning the alleged involvement of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong mentioned in the Bloomberg report in a post on a neighbourhood WhatsApp group called "Khariah Pmtg Sungai Dua".

The father of four was granted bail of RM6,500, with the court ordering the WhatsApp group to be deleted.

"This is a witchhunt with the sole aim of cracking down on discourse that tarnishes the government’s reputation in the eyes of the public," said Suaram's executive director Sevan Doraisamy.

He said the "systematic targeting" of ordinary Malaysians would only drive people into self-censorship and fear of speaking out, adding that the current government was continuing a tactic used by previous governments.

"Stop this farcical crackdown immediately and we repeat, repeal the Sedition Act," he added.

The farmer's arrest came on the heels of two other arrests, that of prominent activist Badrul Hisham Shaharin or Chegubard and blogger Wan Muhammad Azri Wan Deris, better known as Papagomo.

Yesterday, Badrul was charged with public incitement in connection with the casino controversy, his second charge after he was slapped with another sedition charge related to a speech he made outside Istana Negara earlier this year.

In the explosive report published last week, Bloomberg said Anwar had met with tycoons Vincent Tan of Berjaya and Lim Kok Thay of Genting, as well as representatives of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, to discuss plans to open a casino in Forest City.

"Anwar, senior government officials and the businessmen had lunch and meetings on the possibility of granting what would only be Malaysia’s second-ever casino licence," the report said, adding that the talks were "preliminary".

Anwar denied the report, calling it a lie, but stopped short of saying whether he would seek a retraction from the US-based media group.

Instead, he called on the parties named in the article to "take the necessary action".

This was followed by denials from Berjaya and Genting Berhad, two companies involved in Malaysia's gambling industry.

However, calls have grown for Anwar to clear his name, with many citing the PKR leader's previous actions to sue his critics for defaming him.

Lawyer  Haniff Khatri Abdulla questioned Anwar for asking others mentioned in the report to take action.

He said while such a report could be damaging to a Muslim, it could be seen in a positive light for the two tycoons mentioned as they did not consider gambling a religious sin, adding that their companies were already involved in the local gambling industry.

"It is he (Anwar) who stands to lose. Indeed, (legal) action should be taken. For me, there is no excuse, firstly because he said the report was false and secondly because he said the people mentioned should take action. That's him!" Haniff told MalaysiaNow.

His view is echoed by Selangor Bersatu chairman Mohamed Azmin Ali, who reminded Anwar of his past actions against his critics including political leaders.

"That's what the public is asking. If tough action has been taken against political parties, why not against Bloomberg?" the former PKR deputy president told MalaysiaNow.

"Why would he ask these companies to take action when the big name here is the prime minister?"