Kuala Lumpur: Digitally savvy Malaysian police have been using social media to issue warnings to critics of scandal-hit Prime Minister Najib Razak in an unusual online campaign that critics say is unlikely to work.
Mr Najib is facing the biggest political crisis in his seven-year premiership over a multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and over deposits of $US700 million ($986 million) in his private bank account.
Mr Najib, chairman of the 1MDB advisory board, has denied any wrongdoing.
He said he did not take any money for personal gain.
Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali has closed investigations into Mr Najib.
He said the $986 million was a donation from a Saudi Arabian royal family benefactor and most of it had been returned.
That has not stopped Malaysians voicing their exasperation on social media.
A caricature of Mr Najib with a clown face and the words "in a country full of corruption, we are all seditious" was widely shared recently.
The police responded within hours, with an online warning to the artist who drew it, Fahmi Reza, telling him they were watching his Twitter account and he should use it "prudently and in line with the law", he said.
"The ruling elite of this country has always been intolerant to dissent. They're always afraid of losing their throne," the artist said.
"But the people have changed. The culture of protest and resistance is growing stronger."
He is not the first person to be warned over a social media comment as the police make use of Twitter to identify people and caution them about repercussions.
A typical warning on Twitter reads: "Action will be taken against individuals who spread false information."
It is often accompanied by the Twitter handle of the person being targeted by police.
Responding to criticism of the Attorney-General's decision to drop the investigation into Mr Najib, police warned another Twitter user: "Investigations will be carried out on the posts made by the owner of this Twitter account."
A police spokeswoman confirmed the Twitter account issuing the warnings was an official Malaysian cyber unit account.
However, she declined to comment on specific warnings.
She referred queries to the head of the police cyber unit but he declined to make an immediate comment.
The Home Ministry, which is in charge of the unit, did not respond to a request for comment.
Mr Najib has taken steps that critics say are aimed at stemming opposition.
He sacked a deputy prime minister who was critical of him and replaced a former attorney-general. Authorities have suspended some media and blocked websites.
Asked to comment on the criticism of suppression of dissent, Communications Minister Salleh Said Keruak said police and the communications regulator were enforcing the law.
"It is not a crackdown. We are just doing the ordinary enforcement," he said, adding that authorities had taken action in nearly 3000 cases last year under a telecommunications and multimedia act.
Human Rights Watch said last month that Malaysia's human rights situation had deteriorated sharply in 2015 as the government stepped up a campaign of harassment and repression.
The government did not respond directly to that report but denied violating rights.
Fahmi responded to his warning by reposting the clown with a new sketch of the police, with the hashtag #BigBrotherIsWatchingYou.
No further action was taken against him while other artists expressed solidarity by sharing the clown sketch with the hashtag #KitaSemuaPenghasut, or "we are all seditious" in Malay.
Mr Najib's Facebook page has been flooded with criticism and calls for him to resign.
A former cabinet minister, Rafidah Aziz, said in a Facebook post on Monday that cracking down online would not work.
"It is so very naive to think that shutting down blogs and intervention in social media will actually stop people from talking," she said.
Mr Salleh said the authorities took the law seriously.
"It is an offence . . . to upload any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person," he said.