Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is disappointed that the Court of Appeal chose to sentence nine Filipino men for waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in relation to the Lahad Datu intrusion four years ago.
This case is in connection with what happened in February-March 2013, when a group, comprising over a hundred people, who were allegedly followers of the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, Jamalul Kiram III, entered Sabah allegedly on a mission to ‘reclaim’ part of Borneo as their ancestral land.
The Lahad Datu situation reportedly saw a total of 68 deaths – 56 from the Sulu sultanate, nine from the Malaysian authorities and six civilians (Astro Awani, 30 December 2013).
Justice Mohd Zawawi Salleh, who chaired the three-member panel of the Court of Appeal, overturned the natural life sentence meted out by the Kota Kinabalu High Court on 26 July 2016 on these nine men and sentenced them to death. The other members of the panel of the Court of Appeal were Justices Abdul Rahman Sebli and Kamardin Hashim (The Star, 9 December 2017).
The nine men are Julham Rashid, 70; Virgilio Nemar Patulada @ Mohammad Alam Patulada, 53; Salib Akhmad Emali, 64; Tani Lahad Dahi, 64; Basad Manuel, 42, who is the son of the late self-proclaimed Sultan Sulu, Jamalul Kiram, Datu Amirbahar Hushin Kiram, 54; Atik Hussin Abu Bakar, 46; Al Wazir Osman @ Abdul, 62; and Ismail Yasin, 77.
It must be noted that in 2016, the trial judge, Judge Stephen Chung, at the Kota Kinabalu High Court, after hearing the case, having the benefit of hearing the witnesses and considering the evidence elected to not sentence the nine to death, but to life imprisonment.
…In his judgment, Chung said there was no evidence that the accused were directly involved in the skirmishes that occurred during the intrusion, nor was there proof that they had killed any member of the security force in cold blood or injured anybody.
He noted that the key persons in the intrusion, such as Datu Agbimuddin Kiram and ‘General Musa’ were not brought to justice. “It is indeed an odious task to pass the appropriate sentence for the accused convicted under Section 121 of the Penal Code.
“The offence had badly affected the lives of the residents of Kampung Tanduo and those who resided in the nearby villages, as well as the families of the deceased security personnel,’ he said… (Malaysian Digest/Bernama 26 July 2016).
The nine persons were thus sentenced not to death, but to life imprisonment by the High Court.
Of note also, is the fact that six or more of these persons elected to plead guilty after the High Court asked 19 of the 30 persons charged to enter their defence after the prosecution managed to establish a prima facie case. The plea of guilt is generally taken as a mitigating factor when it comes to sentencing.
It was also reported that the lawyer representing the accused who pleaded guilty also “told the court that his clients had been promised jobs and identity cards by their leader, General Musa, the chief of staff of Datu Agbimuddin Kiram who was a brother of the self-styled Sulu Sultan” (The Star, 24 February 2016).
It was also reported that “although they admitted to being members of a terror group known as the Royal Sulu Force (RSF), they were not involved in its militant activities. He said this was consistent with their statements recorded individually before a Sessions Court judge in Lahad Datu shortly after their arrests sometime in March 2013…”
It must be pointed out that even though they may all be convicted of the same offence, when it comes to sentencing, the court is duty bound to consider the evidence adduced against each and every individual in determining the appropriate sentence for each of them.
As such, the observation of the High Court that there was “no evidence that the accused were directly involved in the skirmishes that occurred during the intrusion, nor was there proof that they had killed any member of the security force in cold blood or injured anybody” is most relevant.
The atrocity of the incident itself, which involved over 100 persons, should never be sufficient to justify the imposition of an unjust sentence, especially the death penalty, on the few individuals who were caught, charged, tried and convicted.
Further, it must be reiterated that the death penalty has been shown to have no deterrent value on crimes, and vice versa, there has been no proof showing that the death penalty does in fact deter crime.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman, the new de facto law minister, during a parliamentary session on 2 November 2016 clarified that Malaysia was not just looking at the mandatory death penalty, but all death penalties. They were considering possibly replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment (The Sun Daily, 3 November 2016).
This fact also makes this recent decision of the Court of Appeal to impose the death penalty, coupled with the fact that many in Malaysia are for the abolition of the death penalty.
As such, Madpet calls for the death sentence imposed on this nine persons to be commuted to imprisonment.
Madpet reiterates its call for the abolition of the death penalty and for an immediate moratorium on all executions pending abolition.
Charles Hector issued the above statement for and on behalf of Madpet.