Public authorities must respect right to legal counsel, says Suaram

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Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) strongly condemns the raid conducted by the religious authorities at Renaissance Hotel on 4 April 2016.

The raid was conducted in response to an inaccurate report claiming that there was a beauty pageant taking place at the said event. The event that was taking place was merely a closed-door private fund raising charity dinner organised by the community.

Suaram finds the behaviour by the religious authorities to be highly unprofessional and borderline illegal as the officers on duty refused to provide the lawyers with appropriate information on the arrest of their clients. As legal professionals, lawyers are required to have adequate information from the relevant authorities in order to discharge their duties. No public authority can have the power to subvert a detainee’s rights by limiting the lawyers’ access to information to the detriment of their client.

Further, the threat of arresting lawyers under section 9 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997 [contempt or defiance of religious authorities] and Section 186 of the Penal Code [obstructing public servant in discharge of his public functions] is deplorable, to say the least.

Public authorities cannot claim that lawyers discharging their duties in a professional capacity as obstructing a public official or holding a religious authority in contempt. Any attempt to do so can and will be interpreted as an illegal attempt to subvert Malaysians’ rights to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner under Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution.

On this note, Suaram calls for the immediate release of the hostess who remains under detention and demands that the religious authorities issue a public apology for the wrongful arrest of Siti Kassim and account for the unprofessional conduct displayed by their officers on duty.

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Suaram also expresses our solidarity for those who were arrested and detained in this debacle and reiterate our commitment to protect and promote the rights of marginalised communities.

Sevan Doraisamy is executive director of Suaram.

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