©Malay Mail (Used by permission)
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — DAP MP Karpal Singh’s conviction today under the “archaic and draconian” Sedition Act 1948 has raised the spectre of selective government prosecution, the Bar Council said today.
The professional body representing some 13,000 lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia said it was appalled by the court ruling and denounced the government’s continued use of the 66–year–old law which “directly contradicts” the prime minister’s July 2012 promise to repeal it.
“This was a clear admission and recognition by the Government that the Sedition Act is an anachronistic and repressive colonial law.
“Thus, the decision to proceed with the prosecution of YB Karpal Singh under a law that the government has slated for repeal is inexplicable and raises the spectre of selective prosecution,” Malaysian Bar vice–president Steven Thiru said in a statement.
He said Karpal, who is also a veteran lawyer, was only exercising his right to free speech when giving his opinion during the Perak constitutional crisis in 2009.
“The right of a citizen (in this case a senior and experienced lawyer) to voice an opinion on a constitutional law point, that is, whether the decision of a Ruler of a State is justiciable in the courts, is clearly within the scope of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 10 (1)(a) the Constitution,” he said.
The lawyer further said that the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression must be interpreted “liberally”, while any limits on it should be interpreted narrowly.
He acknowledged that Article 10(2)(a) allowed the government to make laws — including the Sedition Act — that limits the right to free speech, but stressed that such laws “must be interpreted restrictively to ensure that the fundamental right is not nullified or rendered meaningless”.
Steven also said the Sedition Act “negates the fundamental liberties” that are enshrined in the Federal Constitution.
He said the colonial–era sedition law was an “affront to the rule of law”, adding: “It was designed to suppress and persecute the citizenry.”
“The Act is antithetical to democratic principles and ideals as it stifles and criminalises genuine, temperate and reasonable discussions of important national issues,” he said.
Earlier this morning, the Kuala Lumpur High Court found Karpal guilty of committing sedition against the Sultan of Perak in 2009 for saying his decision to replace the state’s mentri besar then could be challenged in a court of law.
Judge Datuk Paduka Azman Abdullah ruled that Karpal’s lawyers had failed to raise reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case, but allowed their application to defer sentencing to March 7 to give them time to prepare mitigation.
Karpal, 73, was initially charged in March 2009 with uttering seditious words at a press conference at his office here, where he said the removal of then–mentri besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin by the Sultan was open to legal challenge.
He was later acquitted by the High Court in June 2010 at the end of the prosecution’s case, but the Court of Appeal overturned the decision in January 2012 and ordered him to enter his defence.
The DAP chairman, who was charged under Section 4(1)(b) of the Act, could now face a maximum three years’ jail, RM5,000 fine or both.
Karpal risks disqualification as Bukit Gelugor MP if he is fined more than RM1,000 or sentenced to more than one year in prison.