Review sedition charges or be blamed for selective prosecution, lawyers tell A-G

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Source: The Malaysian Insider

Law lecturer Dr Azmi Sharom is facing sedition charges over an article on the Selangor menteri besar saga. Lawyers today urged the Attorney-General to review the charges. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal, October 8, 2015.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali should review all sedition charges against those who will stand trial following Tuesday’s Federal Court ruling that the law enacted under British rule was constitutional, lawyers said.

They said it was questionable whether those charged with the offence, including law lecturer Dr Azmi Sharom, had committed the alleged crime.

The lawyers also highlighted the A-G’s decision to withdraw the sedition charge against Malay Armed Forces Veterans Association president Mohd Ali Baharom last month.

The A-G has the power to withdraw charges even in the midst of a trial or appeal.

Lawyer Mohamd Haniff Khatri Abdulla said the law should remain but there must not be selective prosecution.

“I do not see Azmi’s utterance and the publication of his views as seditious because it was an academic opinion,” he said.

He said there would be little progress in intellectual discourse if academics were stifled from expressing their views publicly.

On Tuesday, a five-man bench led by Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria said the sedition law was not against the freedom of speech under Article 10 (1) (a) of the Federal Constitution.

The nation’s top judge said there were also defences available under the law and this included showing any ruler that he has been misled or mistaken in any of his measures or to point out errors in any government or constitution.

Haniff said Azmi fell into one of those exceptions when he voiced his opinion on the political saga on the appointment of a new Selangor menteri besar following the resignation of Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim last year.

On September 2, 2014, Azmi, was charged under Section 4(1)(b) and Section 4(1)(c) of the act over his comments in an article – “Take Perak crisis route for speedy end to Selangor impasse, Pakatan told” – published in a news portal.

The Federal Court ruling also has an impact on some 30 politicians, government critics and activists who have been charged with sedition since last year.

Haniff also questioned former A-G Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail’s decision not to prosecute Datuk Ibrahim Ali, a well-known and ardent government supporter, who escaped prosecution for his speech that called for Malay Bibles to be burnt.

Lawyer M. Viswanathan said it would a good public relations exercise for Apandi to review all cases pending in court, including Azmi’s.

“What amounts to sedition is very subjective. The public perception is that those who are anti-establishment have to face the full brunt of the law while those supportive of the government escape punishment.”

He cited Ali’s case, who is attempting to hold a gathering in Taman Melaka Raya on Saturday in defence of Immigration officers assaulted by thugs, and who said the area “will not be safe during the rally”.

Visvanathan said that statement obviously had seditious tendency and it appeared that Ali had the habit of threatening others.

On September 17, Ali walked out of court a free man after the prosecution withdrew the charge against him for making inflammatory remarks outside Kuala Lumpur’s Low Yat Plaza in July.

Viswanathan also said Apandi must be “visible” to answer tough question at press conferences instead of issuing press releases.

Lawyer Edmund Bon said the A-G should review and drop sedition charges against those who claimed trial to the charges.

“Just like any other criminal case, the accused have to go through a long and tedious process. Spare them the agony by reviewing their cases.” – October 8, 2015.