Malaysia: Cyber police on Twitter offensive to save Najib from online ridicule
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak prays before he announces revisions to the fiscal budget in Putrajaya, Malaysia, January 28, 2016 Reuters

Malaysian police have turned to Twitter to douse raging social media lampoon on embattled Prime Minister Najib Razak, issuing warnings against people who publish memes and caricatures.

The recent tightening of the social media watch followed the Twitter posting of a caricature of the prime minister showing him in a clown face and with words "in a country full of corruption, we are all seditious".

The caricature by artist Fahmi Reza became viral, forcing the police to issue a warning against him.

The police told him they were watching his Twitter account and he should use it "prudently and in line with the law", Reuters reported.

The cyber unit officers now use Twitter to warn people about repercussions of being too critical about the government.

The warning is typically phrased as "Action will be taken against individuals who spread false information." The message is accompanied by the Twitter handles of people who the agency has identified as transgressors.

Malaysian officials, who acknowledged the new social media monitoring strategy, denied it is a crackdown.

"It is not a crackdown. We are just doing the ordinary enforcement," Minister of Communications Salleh Said Keruak said.

Experts say the new offensive by the cyber wing of Malaysian police may not scupper online revolt against Najib and the government.

Artist Fahmi responded to the police warning by reposting the caricature. "The ruling elite of this country has always been intolerant to dissent. They're always afraid of losing their throne," Fahmi told Reuters.

"But the people have changed. The culture of protest and resistance is growing stronger.

Harassment and repression

The Human rights Watch said in a January report that Malaysia's rights situation deteriorated sharply during 2015, as the government increased its campaign of harassment and repression against activists, political opposition figures, and the media.

"The Malaysian government responded to public criticism of a major corruption scandal and its persecution of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim with a wave of repression," Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director, said.

"Prime Minister Najib Razak is trampling on fundamental rights to hush up corruption allegations and maintain his grip on power."

In 2015, authorities arrested dozens of people under the Sedition Act for making remarks critical of the government, the judiciary, and Malaysia's sultans, the report said.

Najib is reeling from allegations that he diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from the state-owned company into his personal account in the run up to the 2013 election.

Though Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi cleared Najib of any wrongdoing, saying the money deposited in the prime minister's bank account was entirely legal "personal donation" from the Saudi royal family, the Saudi's clarified last week the amount was not personal donation.

The financial irregularities and at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and cases related with it are under investigation in various countries including Switzerland, France and Singapore.