A Malaysian woman was charged today with insulting scandal-tainted Prime Minister Najib Razak by dropping balloons bearing pro-democracy messages near him during a public event, her lawyer said.
The case against Bilqis Hijjas — dubbed “Balloongate” on social media — has drawn public ridicule as an example of government overkill in pressuring its critics.
Bilqis Hijjas, 36, a dance producer, dropped yellow balloons with the words “justice,” “democracy” and “media freedom” from an upper floor of a shopping mall while Najib and his wife officiated a function down below.
The incident occurred on August 31, one day after tens of thousands of yellow-shirted protesters paralysed the capital Kuala Lumpur with massive demonstrations demanding Najib’s ouster over allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
With a group of supporters waiting outside a Kuala Lumpur court bearing yellow balloons, Bilqis was charged inside with “insulting behaviour” that could affect public order.
“You can’t just say you have insulted someone and charge them in court for dropping balloons,” said Bilqis’ lawyer Michelle Yesudas, calling the charges “utterly ridiculous”.
The penalty for the charge is a mere 100 ringgit (USD 23), but Bilqis was contesting it on “principle,” Yesudas said. Bilqis is free on bail.
Najib is under intense fire over allegations of huge sums missing from a state-owned firm he launched, and mysterious transfers of nearly USD 700 million into his own bank accounts.
Najib has denied wrongdoing but has moved to quash the allegations by sacking officials and going after whistleblowers.
Critics of Najib’s government say it routinely pressures the opposition and other opponents with a range of charges.