02:53 - Source: CNN
Malaysia's $3.5 billion scandal will not go away

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Malaysians have been protesting against Prime Minister Najib Razak

He is accused of corruption in relation to the 1MDB fund

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia CNN —  

A prominent Malaysian civil rights leader has been released after she was controversially jailed under anti-extremism laws.

Maria Chin Abdullah was arrested November 18, on the eve of a mass rally against Prime Minister Najib Razak organized by Bersih, a coalition of pro-democracy groups.

The 59-year-old was detained under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012, or SOSMA, a law designed to tackle terrorism under which suspects can be detained without trial for 28 days.

Malaysia: Crackdown on free speech creates ‘culture of fear’

Maria Chin Abdullah
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Maria Chin Abdullah

’Not a terrorist’

“My detention is illegal,” Chin told supporters following her release. “I’m not a terrorist and neither is Bersih a terrorist organization.”

She was kept in solitary confinement in what Amnesty International described as “deplorable conditions.” Chin described the experience as “humiliating.”

“In solitary confinement, the lights are on 24 hours a day and you wake up and don’t know whether it’s day or night.”

The mother of three said that she was also denied access to her family and lawyers during her detention although she was allowed to see them for an hour on November 27.

Tens of thousands rallied against Malaysia's government this month.
Samsul Said/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Tens of thousands rallied against Malaysia's government this month.

Mass rallies

On November 19, Bersih held its fifth major rally in Kuala Lumpur to press for electoral reforms in Malaysia.

While previous rallies focused mainly on greater democratic rights and electoral reform, this year had an added dimension following the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal that surrounds Prime Minister Najib Razak.

According to police, Chin was arrested after “documents detrimental to parliamentary democracy” were found in Bersih’s offices during a raid. Her detention, a police spokesman said, was to give authorities sufficient time to obtain more information on the organization’s “foreign funding.”

Police did not respond to a CNN request for comment.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has faced repeated protests over the 1MDB scandal.
MOHD RASFAN/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Prime Minister Najib Razak has faced repeated protests over the 1MDB scandal.

Cartoonist detained

As Chin was released, another prominent government critic was arrested.

Cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar, was arrested on suspicion of sedition Saturday following an exhibition at the Georgetown Literary Festival.

He is currently banned from leaving the country and faces nine charges with a potential maximum prison term of 43 years.

Zunar told CNN he was released after a day’s detention and has to report back to police next month.

“They said I will likely be charged under the Sedition Act,” he said.

Last month, Human Rights Watch warned of an ongoing crackdown on critics of Najib’s administration that was fueling a “culture of fear” in Malaysia.

CNN’s James Griffiths contributed to this report.