In the second part of this series, Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali speaks about the Sedition Act. He tells The Malaysian Insider that the act is still relevant but is now reviewing each case as he wants a 99% chance of securing a conviction before taking it to court
Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali said he is in the midst of reviewing sedition charges and investigations on a case-by-case basis, and will mostly likely withdraw one against an opposition member “very soon”.
Apandi said he had just begun the process of reviewing criminal charges after having been in office for 100 days, and was now looking at reducing the number of cases that are brought to court.
“I’m reviewing (the cases), in fact there’s one case against an opposition member, an elected member… I’m studying the case and will most likely withdraw the charge,” Apandi told The Malaysian Insider in a recent interview.
Although he refused to disclose the opposition member’s identity, he confirmed that it was an ongoing court case.
He said a sedition charge is withdrawn when it is unclear if an offence was committed.
“(Whether) the utterance is seditious or not, is arguable. It can be, it can be not. So there is a balance to it.
“But if it is more or less not clear, I will withdraw (the charge). Because my stand is I must have a 99% chance of success (conviction), then only I will pursue (the charge).”
He said this would help reduce the number of hours and manpower spent on cases that would be eventually thrown out.
“(It’s) not only the Sedition Act. I’m reviewing all other criminal charges. Namely, drug cases,” he said, adding that many judges had approached him to reconsider charges made against drug mules, particularly those related to trafficking of cannabis.
However, Apandi said he did not think the Sedition Act had been abused, whether in this particular opposition member’s case or in general.
He said sedition will always be a matter of perception, and that the act is still relevant.
Those who do not want to be arrested or charged, should simply “watch what you say”, he said.
He also said that the Penal Code consists of other provisions that could be used against offenders of the Sedition Act.
“However, that was no excuse to abolish it,” he added.
EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW
TMI: What is the delay in implementing the new provisions in the Sedition Act? Is Putrajaya looking into further amendments, or is public pressure forcing Putrajaya to relook the new provisions?
APANDI: That is a policy decision, they (Putrajaya) call it. Policy decision is not my call. That decision you may have to ask the minister or the Cabinet. But I have to tell you, the Sedition Act is not the only law which was passed, gazetted, but not implemented. There are other laws before this. They pass the laws, then only after a few years they put into force, for reasons best known to the administrators.
TMI: So you wouldn’t know?
APANDI: If it’s about why, I wouldn’t know.
TMI: If they are relooking some of the provisions, you would be involved?
APANDI: Yes, of course. If they want to amend it, add to it, delete it or anything, even after it’s been passed, then I’ll be involved.
TMI: What is your take on the Sedition Act so far? Has it been abused, misused?
APANDI: You’re asking me whether I’ve been abusing it? I say, no. In order not to be arrested or charged, watch what you say.
TMI: So you think it’s still a relevant law?
APANDI: It is still a relevant law.
TMI: Don’t you think there are other provisions in the Penal Code we can use? Criminal defamation, for instance?
APANDI: Of course, for every offence there are multiple charges, but it’s very specific in the Sedition Act.
TMI: The Sedition Act has been used to arrest civil society members, journalists, anyone who says something critical. Don’t you think that shows abuse?
APANDI: Statements have been recorded from so many. But I can tell you not everyone will be charged. I will vet through. I am looking at them on a case to case basis. Those who have been under investigation but no charges yet… and even those who have been charged. So I’m reviewing, and in fact there’s one case against an opposition member, elected member, I don’t want to disclose the name yet. I’m studying the case, and will most likely withdraw the charge. It is already in court, but I’m relooking it.
Give me time. Only after 100 days in office, I have had the opportunity to review. Because I feel that not everybody should go. So I’m reviewing. Not only cases under the Sedition Act. I’m reviewing all other criminal charges. Namely, drug cases. Because the judges say – I’m from the bench – the judges will tell you, can’t you all do some review? Because they are pitiful, those who get caught who are actually mere mules, or carriers. Not a syndicate. I said, ‘okay, in appropriate cases, I think I will go along’. So I’m in the course of reviewing it. Particularly in respect of cannabis. If it is hard drugs, I may still consider but it depends on the facts of the case.
And then to sentence them to death. Even the judges are hesitant to pass the death sentence on mere mules, who are just earning RM1,000 to feed their family.
So, I’m reviewing not only sedition cases and drug cases but also murder cases. Murder cases where we find it may be difficult, I will review. But if crimes that involve violence, I will be hesitant to review.
TMI: Since you’re possibly withdrawing the sedition charge against an opposition member, does that mean that there is a possibility the act was abused in this particular case?
APANDI: Not abused. This is all a matter of perception. Whether there’s a tendency or not, is a perception. And when you go to court, it’s up to reasonable men there. I try to put myself in the shoes of a reasonable man, because I’m the one who decides, ‘hey, can this hold up in court?’
Whether the utterance is seditious or not, is arguable. It can be, it can be not. So there is a balance to it. But if it is more or less not clear, I will withdraw.
My stand is, I must have a 99% case of success then only I pursue. That is my concept or approach in reviewing cases. I have a goal, that is to reduce the number of cases, reduce the man hours spent on cases where at the end of the day there is nothing to it. So I reduce the number of cases that are appealable. This saves everyone’s time.– November 12, 2015.