Critics of oppressive governments often end up defamed

ANYONE who accused a Malaysian government minister of sexual impropriety would quickly find himself in trouble. The government has charged critics and peaceful protesters with sedition, and criminalises speech deemed to be insulting or to breach “public tranquillity”. Yet Anwar Ibrahim, a charismatic former opposition leader, has spent years in prison on ridiculous trumped-up sodomy charges.

Critics of repressive governments often find themselves subjected to smears that, if they had been directed towards people within those governments, would have led to jail, the poorhouse or the morgue. A Russian who accuses a judge or policeman of being bought off, for instance, can be fined 2m roubles ($34,981), under a provision of Russian libel law that sets extra-stiff penalties for “defaming” courts, prosecutors or police.

And yet in March a spokesman for the president, Vladimir Putin, claimed, without citing any evidence, that young Russians who participated in anti-government…

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