The ICJ condemned the High Court decision sentencing prominent Malaysian lawyer and chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party Karpal Singh with a criminal sanction. He was found guilty of sedition on 21 February 2014.
The sanction amounts to RM 4,000 fine (approximately US$1,220).
The High Court’s decision was based on a statement made by Karpal Singh at a press conference on 6 February 2009 that Sultan Azlan Shah’s decision to remove the Perak’s state Chief Minister from office in 2009 could be challenged in a court of law.
“The Malaysian government is brazenly utilizing a draconian and outdated sedition law to restrict freedom of expression in the country by lawyers and public figures,” said Emerlynne Gil, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser on Southeast Asia.
The Malaysian government on 21 July 2012 announced that it planned to repeal the colonial-era 1948 Sedition Act, but has been slow to act on its announcement.
“Public discussion, including debates on the interpretation of laws, are an integral part of the nature of the legal process and a crucial step in the strengthening of a country’s democracy and rule of law,” said Gil. “A lawyer’s right to freely and independently engage and express their views on the law fulfills an important aspect of their professional role.”
In June 2010, the High Court initially ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove a prima facie case and acquitted Karpal Singh. The prosecution, however, later appealed, and the Court of Appeal reversed the High Court’s decision and ordered a retrial.
Pursuant to article 48(e) of the Federal Constitution, Karpal Singh now risks losing his Parliamentary seat unless the High Court’s decision is overturned during appeal.
Karpal Singh was the lead counsel for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim during his Sodomy II appeal from 6 – 7 March 2014, which saw the Court of Appeal overturn his acquittal and sentenced him to five years in prison.
Karpal Singh is expected to appeal both the conviction and the sentence to the Court of Appeal.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t +66 2 619 8477; email: emerlynne.gil(a)icj.org
Craig Knowles, ICJ Media Consultant, t +66 81 9077653; email:craig.knowles(a)icj.org