Conviction of Karpal Singh a setback for rule of law

Karpal Singh - Photograph: Wikipedia

The Malaysian government must stop using colonial-era repressive laws to harass political opposition leaders, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) have said.

On 21 February 2014, the Kuala Lumpur High Court found Democratic Action Party (DAP) Chairman Karpal Singh guilty under Section 4(1) (b) of the 1948 Sedition Law. The case stemmed from a press conference on 6 February 2009, in which Karpal Singh questioned the decision of Sultan of Perak state Azlan Shah to fire the then chief minister, Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin.

“Under the rule of law, no one is above the law. A decision of the monarch can be scrutinised in a judicial process under a constitutional monarchy system. Mr Karpal Singh has been prosecuted for merely expressing a legal opinion. This is clearly inconsistent with international standards for freedom of opinion and expression, including Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

“Malaysia must urgently repeal its outdated Sedition Law and all the other draconian laws inherited by the British colonial administration,” he urged.

The court set the sentencing for 11 March. Karpal, 73, faces up to three years in prison or a RM5,000 (US$1,515) fine or both. He also risks losing his parliamentary seat because the Malaysian Constitution stipulates that an MP must be removed from office if fined more than RM2,000 or jailed for a term exceeding one year.

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“The Malaysian government’s increasing use of draconian legislation to harass and silence political opponents and human rights defenders is a matter of grave concern,” said Suaram Executive Director Yap Swee Seng.

“Over 18 months ago, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Sedition Law would be abolished. But as his government struggles to maintain its shaky grip on power, Najib has failed to keep his promise. Instead, Najib’s administration has stepped up prosecutions of opposition leaders under this law,” Yap added.

Karpal Singh was initially acquitted of sedition charges on 11 June 2010. However, following an appeal by the prosecution, on 20 January 2012, the Court of Appeals reversed the acquittal and ordered Karpal Singh to stand trial on the original charges.

Another member of Malaysia’s opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, is currently on trial on politically motivated charges under another colonial-era law. Anwar has been charged under Section 377 of the Malaysian Criminal Code, which criminalises sex between adult men. Karpal Singh represented Anwar during the latter’s first and second sodomy trials.

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  1. I repeat the earlier assumptions I made on this subject on other blogs about the cause for an appeal against the courts decision that Karpal Singh had breached the sedition act 1948.

    Whilst none of the reasons in the appeal submissions are made public in detail in this article one must make reasonable assumptions based on what Karpal Singh’s lawyers have reputedly said to Rakyat Times and placed on the record on the subject.

    Based on the published grounds for appeal against the sedition charge for which Karpal Singh was convicted, it is hard to see how the judge could have erred in law in finding Karpal Singh guilty of the offence of sedition as is prescribed under the sedition act 1948.

    It was a time of high volatility aided not helped by the Bersih madness that gripped a nation dividing it along racial and cultural lines.

    The threat to (allegedly) overthrow a legitimate government with foreign funding by Bersih and other elements of the opposition in Malaysia was very real..

    Bersih and the Malaysian Bar were not simply after a change of government from the variety of statements proffered by individual members and the collective of each of these organizations. One of whom Karpal Singh was sympathetic to (Bersih) the other of which he was necessarily a member of (the parliamentary opposition to government).

    What is on the record on the subject by Karpal Singh and attributed to him unchallenged appears to have adequately satisfied the provisions of the relevant legislation on the question of the offence of sedition:

    Paragraph 3 of the Act contains the definition of the term “seditious Tendency” which goes further to corroborating and supporting the definition of Sedition.

    Had it been in circumstances where the political and communal atmosphere was not so volatile and charged it is doubtful whether the charge of sedition would have been raised and raised successfully against Karpal Singh for his statements.

    However and on any reading of the legal definition of sedition and way the act is structured, it is clear that in that very highly charged atmosphere and political environment that at least in some sections (the offended opposition in Perak) Karpal’s words could be said to have brought or capable of bringing hatred, contempt and excited disaffection against government and the ruler (the Sultan). The prosecution need go no further to satisfy the evidentiary burden in respect of the commission of the offence of sedition.

    Retired Justice NH Chan himself threw his two bits into the arena over the Sultan’s actions in the Perak crisis. However it is not clear whether NH Chan’s comments on the subject could have been taken seriously by anyone to be an erudite or academically respectable challenge.. If for no other reason than NH Chan’s criticisms was a feeble, illogical and ill-informed commentary by the retired judge on the subject. Karpal’s on the other hand was perhaps a little different and given his position and history (allegedly) more seditious in nature.

    But to seek to overturn the decision now by his lawyers and the legal fraternity brings into focus the real intent of Karpal when he made those statements.
    Is it as it appears on the one hand to be an admission of his guilt on the charge of sedition that his lawyers also seek to have the legislation repealed altogether?

    What could be the purpose of such a move? are they (Karpal’s lawyers) suggesting that no Malaysian or anyone else for that matter is capable of sedition and therefore the statute as it stands is redundant? Or more likely are they attempting to pave the way for more seditious conduct by Karpal’s associates like Bersih and Anwar’s PKR to engage in seditious conduct without consequence to them?

    Karpal had the tendency to be very loud and brash throughout his career. It was how he conducted himself as a lawyer. That’s a personal observation evident also in the tapes on record at the hearing of the Teoh Beng Hock inquiry before the first magistrate. Both he and his son Deo appeared to be unruly, angry and disruptive in court. But this does not condemn the man per se for his comments on the Sultan.

    The point I make here is this. Karpal’s style and approach towards any of his adversaries in this case the Sultan were hardly tempered enough to avoid the charge of seditious conduct and seditious intent.

    He ought to have been mindful of the environment in which he was saying what he did. It was incumbent upon him as an officer of the court and as a member of government (all of parliament is strictly speaking government) to be judicious and cautious with his words and how he expressed these. He did not. He was not.

    This is not a personal attack on Karpal Singh the man nor is it an attempt to subvert his appeal or the prospects for its success.

    But if the Karpal legal team see it fit to make their appeal and its contents (at least a part of it) public at this time then of course the public has a right to comment on it likewise.

    Given the quality of the debate on the subject of Sedition, I suspect that sustaining a charge of sedition against many of those charged may well be a challenge to the judiciary and the courts.

    The Malaysian Sedition Act is a thinly worded document which borrows some of its terminology from elsewhere without obtaining for effect the full text of a properly drafted Sedition Act.

  2. Malaysia will be a much better country than it is now if only they have acted and enforced rules like a colonial master ! Malaysia would not have been in deficit, the infrastructures in the country would have been better maned. Or they don’t have to mull of leasing the fighter jets for the air force, when the present administrators are already leasing Putrajaya ! This is not a joke or an insult, soon the present regime might have to lease Johore or part of Johore … to stay relevant !

    As it is everything in the country is in a shamble, shortage of skillful professionals in everything, the situation is heading south so rapidly that Talent Corp was officially formed to go round the world begging the immigrated skillful professionals. Even though unofficially the immigrated were approached some to return to serve the country years ago. Sad to say millions of the immigrated, who are mostly non Malays, did not ever consider returning to Malaysia to serve Malaysia. Even with incentives and added incentives.

    More than 99.9% of the successful immigrated professionals Malaysians have become citizens of their adopted countries, rejected the pleas of the present Talent Corp. Like everything in life, always there are losers, these losers are still hanging on to their Malaysian passports. So that they can return to Malaysia, in the name of serving the country. When the truth is they are looking for some excuses to return to Malaysia even without any incentives and now what better excuse can they can give than accepting the offer Talent Corp is offering. Plus to return to Malaysia with pride, honour and incentives and added incentives and most of all be ‘kings’ amongst the blind for these failed immigrants !


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