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On Friday, 21st February, 2014, Mr Singh was found guilty under the archaic and draconian Sedition Act 1948 for allegedly uttering seditious words against the Sultan of Perak (Ruler of the Malaysian state of Perak) at the height of the constitutional crisis in 2009. Following application by his defence, his own son, taking into consideration Mr Singh’s medical condition who is wheelchair bound following an accident in 2005, the judge has fixed 7 March 2014 for sentencing. At the heart of the case, Mr Singh is accused of uttering words which have the tendency to create hatred towards the Ruler.
You can find more details of the case here:
Some documents on the said constitutional crisis compiled by a Malaysian lawyer at time of the crisis: http://malaysiaforum.org/lmf/?p=18
In recent years, the Sedition Act and other restrictive legislation have been allegedly employed to silence critics of the executive. Mr Singh was last tried for sedition in 2002 with charges being withdrawn during trial widely believed to be due to numerous representations from the international legal community. Mr Singh has however suffered imprisonment under Malaysia’s internal security laws in 1987 and again in 1989 widely perceived to be linked to his opposition to then Prime Minister, Tun Mahathir Mohamad.
Amnesty International issued a statement in 2001 affirming Mr Singh, a prisoner of conscience. The statement also strongly criticised the use of the Sedition Act, and other restrictive legislation, to stifle fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly in Malaysia.
This is a very important trial, not only for Mr Singh, but also for the people of Malaysia who have elected him to office. As chairman of the largest opposition party, the Democratic Action Party (“DAP”), Mr Singh is a core pillar of Malaysian opposition politics. The Malaysian constitution disqualifies anyone imprisoned for more than a year to sit in Parliament for a period of five years beginning with the date on which the convicted person is released. The alleged orchestrated removal of Mr Singh will therefore be tantamount to putting an end to opposition politics in Malaysia.
Several groups have issued statements on this matter, amongst them:
The International Commission of Jurists: http://www.icj.org/malaysia-high-court-decision-curtails-lawyers-freedom-of-expression/
The Malaysian Bar:http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/legal/general_news/bar_council_sedition_conviction_smells_of_selective_prosecution.html
Lawyers for Liberty (a Malaysian organisation):http://www.lawyersforliberty.org/2014/02/lfl-karpal-singhs-sedition-conviction-reaffirms-the-return-of-authoritarianism-and-political-persecution/
As a freedom loving Malaysian citizen, I humbly request that you consider issuing a statement in support of Mr Singh who is not only a distinguished lawyer and politician but also a father like figure to all freedom loving Malaysians.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has joined the Malaysian legal fraternity in disapproving the High Court’s decision in convicting lawyer Karpal Singh of sedition, saying the conviction was inconsistent with international law and standards on the free expression of opinion by lawyers.
ICJ’s International Legal Advisor on Southeast Asia Emerlynne Gil said this conviction sends out a message that lawyers in Malaysia are not free to express their opinions about legal issues.
Gil said Karpal’s conviction was based on the fact that during a press conference in early 2009, he had allegedly uttered “seditious words” when he questioned whether Sultan Azlan Shah had the legal authority to remove the then Perak Menteri Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin.
“This case is another sign of the lack of respect of the Malaysian government for the principle of free expression,” said Gil in a statement.
She said Karpal acted in fulfilment of a core function of the legal profession, which is to contribute to the public discourse on matters of law.
The United Nations basic principles on the role of lawyers specifically provide that lawyers, like ordinary citizens, are entitled to freedom of opinion and expression.
She said lawyers have the right “to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights” without fear of suffering professional restrictions or repercussions due to their lawful action.
Meanwhile, the Malaysian Bar said the right of a citizen, and in this case, a senior and experienced lawyer to voice an opinion on a constitutional point of law, was clearly within the scope of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.
“That constitutional right must be interpreted liberally while any limits on it should be interpreted narrowly,” Bar vice-president Steven Thiru said in a statement.
He said the constitution allowed Putrajaya to make laws, including the Sedition Act, that limited the right to free speech; but stressed that such laws “must be interpreted restrictively to ensure that the fundamental right was not rendered meaningless”.
Steven said the sedition law enacted in 1948 was an “affront to the rule of law” and designed to suppress and persecute the citizens.
“The Act is antithetical to democratic principles and ideals as it stifles and criminalises genuine, temperate and reasonable discussions of important national issues,” said Thiru, whose organisation represents about 13,000 lawyers in the peninsula.
Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) executive director Eric Paulsen said Karpal’s conviction reaffirms the return of authoritarianism and political persecution.
Paulsen said this was apparent following the dismissal earlier this week of P. Uthayakumar’s appeal, also for sedition.
He said the return of authoritarianism and political persecution followed a brief lull during which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made a series of democratic reforms which turned out to be a rebranding exercise and ultimately – false.
Yesterday, High Court judge Datuk Paduka Azman Abdullah found Karpal guilty of uttering seditious words against the Sultan of Perak at the height of the constitutional crisis in 2009.
The sentence has been deferred to March 7 for Karpal’s defence team to prepare mitigation to obtain a lighter sentence.
Under section 4(1) of the 1948 Sedition Act, Karpal now faces a fine of up to RM 3,000 or imprisonment of up to three years.
The conviction may force Karpal to give up his seat as a member of the Malaysian parliament as the constitution stated that an elected representative was disqualified from office if fined more than RM 2,000 or jailed for a term exceeding one year.
Karpal, 73, has provided legal defence in several high profile cases, including that of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whose trial on charges of sodomy had drawn heavy criticism in Malaysia and internationally. – February 22, 2014.