Rafizi Ramli, vice-president of the People’s Justice party of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, was found guilty of illegally releasing six years ago financial details related to the National Feedlot Corporation, which was set up to promote the beef industry. He alleged the details proved corruption.
Since the sentence is more than one year, he is barred by law from contesting elections for five years.
Political analysts expect Prime Minister Najib Razak to call a general election within months to seek a new mandate after weathering allegations of massive corruption linked to state investment fund 1MDB.
Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has emerged from retirement to lead an opposition coalition to challenge Najib.
For Rafizi, it was his second conviction for an offence punishable by more than one year in jail.
In November 2016, he was given an 18-month prison term for leaking classified documents linked to 1MDB, but the case is under appeal.
Rafizi has angered authorities by releasing secret documents or making allegations about government abuses.
At the court hearing yesterday he was convicted along with Johari Mohamad, a fomer bank clerk. Rafizi told AFP the sentence was a “political punishment” for speaking the truth.
“I think those in power are sending the strongest signal to everyone that it doesn’t pay to speak the truth,” he said. Both Rafizi and Johari were freed on bail pending an appeal to the High Court.
The Lawyers for Liberty rights group described the sentence as “harsh” and warned it would have “a chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers”.
“Rafizi as an MP was performing his higher duties: that is, to hold the government accountable and expose any corruption,” Eric Paulsen, director of the group, told AFP.
“It is unfortunate that the 30-month jail sentence disqualifies Rafizi from running in the elections at a time when the opposition is seriously challenging the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition,” he added.