Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Monday faced more charges over his part in a mass rally for electoral reforms, which could see him disqualified from politics.
Tens of thousands gathered in the capital Kuala Lumpur on April 28 calling for a cleanup of the voter roll and reforms to a system they say is biased towards prime minister Najib Razak’s coalition that has ruled since 1957.
Police fired protesters with tear gas and water canon when some of them breached a barricade around a central square, and more than 500 people were arrested in clashes.
On Monday, Anwar and two opposition colleagues pleaded not guilty to a charge of encouraging the “riot” and helping three people who breached the barricade during the rally, Anwar’s lawyer Ram Karpal said.
The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of two years and a fine.
Ram said Anwar could be barred from politics if he is found guilty – anyone sentenced to more than six months in jail or a fine of over 2,000 ringgit ($620) can be disqualified from standing in elections.
Anwar and his two colleagues were already charged in May with breaking a controversial new law outlawing street marches and violating a court order specifically banning the rally from the centre of Kuala Lumpur.
Anwar has dismissed the charges as a strategy to remove him from politics before elections that must be called by April next year after his opposition made unprecedented gains in the last polls in 2008.
Anwar, 64, is fighting the first two charges and Ram said he would also do the same against the latest one.
The court hearing for Anwar’s applications over the first two charges is on September 3, Ram said.
Anwar has been in and out of court as the charges stack up against him in what he says are political ploys to tarnish his image and stifle his opposition.
In January he was acquitted of having sex with a male former aide in a long-running trial.
Previously, Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, was imprisoned for corruption and sodomy after he fell out with his then boss, former premier Mahathir Mohamad, in 1998.
He was released from jail in 2004 after the sodomy conviction was overturned.