It is one of those embarrassing stories that you find in a sensationalist newspaper every once in a while: a well-known person's very private photos suddenly turn up on the front page. Usually the pictures prove highly damaging to the person's career, despite the standard apologies and perhaps the occasional tearful press conference. The case of Malaysian human rights activist Elizabeth Wong, however, seems to be different.
Ms Wong, who was elected as an opposition member of the Malaysian State Assembly last year, found herself at the centre of controversy earlier this week when nude pictures of her were circulated on mobile phones. Her ex-partner is alleged to be responsible for leaking the photos.
However, human rights organisation Suaram (‘Voice of the People'), of which Ms Wong is a prominent member, is certain that this is a political smear campaign, says executive director Yap Swee Seng:
"Looking at the current political context, where the ruling party's power has been challenged in last year's election by the opposition, we highly believe that it is politically motivated. I can't believe anyone would we interested to leak out these photos to the public. It is a conspiracy."
Elizabeth Wong has been a leading human rights activist in Malaysia for many years, regularly attacking the ruling parties for their conservative policies. She is also a campaigner on women's issues, and received wide support from female voters in last year's elections.
The nude pictures that are now circulating were taken by her boyfriend at the time, who snapped Ms Wong while she was asleep in bed. The grainy photos remained on her ex beau's cell phone until recently, when the relationship ended. Allegedly, the spurned lover decided to leak the pictures because of the break up.
But anyone expecting Ms Wong to fall out of favour with the Malaysian public is wrong. Despite her tearful exit from politics, announced on Tuesday at a press conference, many organisations, journalists and politicians in Malaysia have called on her to reconsider her decision, says Mr Swee Seng:
"Elizabeth has always been pushing for the right of women to be respected. So women's groups are now coming out very forcefully to demand for the culprits to be arrested. They see this case as an example of violence to women. It's not the perpetrator that's being punished here, but the victim, they say."
So the apparent attempts to discredit Ms Wong have now actually backfired. Even the leader of the main Islamic party in Malaysia has spoken out in support of Ms Wong, saying that the pictures are part of Ms Wong's private life and "should not be issues of public debate".