KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 — A prominent Malaysian anti-corruption campaigner was hauled in for police questioning today, the latest government critic to be placed under investigation since a scandal-plagued party returned to power.

Concerns have been growing that freedom of speech is under threat in Malaysia since the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) seized power in March as part of a coalition following the collapse of a reformist government.

Cynthia Gabriel, the director of the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism, was quizzed by police outside the capital, Kuala Lumpur, over a statement criticising the new government.


Gabriel, whose group has regularly raised concerns about graft scandals linked to officials, is being investigated for suspected defamation and slander, under laws slammed by rights groups as repressive.

She told AFP she was “alarmed that (authorities) are going after anti-corruption advocates”.

An opposition politician who previously served as a minister is also being probed after criticising the government for holding only a brief parliament sitting last month, which opponents said was aimed at avoiding a no-confidence vote.


At least two other people are also being investigated for social media posts critical of authorities.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the government had “returned to rights-abusing practices of the past”.

“The government should stop trying to return to the bad old days and revise the laws to meet international standards,” he said in a statement.

Umno, the lynchpin of a coalition that ruled Malaysia for decades until a shock 2018 election defeat, was beset by graft scandals, accused of silencing critics and fanning racial tensions in the multi-ethnic country.

The previous government, headed by veteran politician Mahathir Mohamad, was more multi-racial and reform-minded, but collapsed amid bitter infighting. — AFP