BY GURDIAL SINGH NIJAR
(Deputy President, HAKAM)
At long last, good sense prevailed! The sedition charge against my colleague Dr Azmi Sharom was dropped.
It was a terrible site to behold as I sat behind the “criminal” dock where Azmi was encaged.
And witnesses trooped in, narrating testimonies to get Azmi convicted. One of them came so late that the Sessions Court judge issued a warrant of arrest, later cancelled, when he suddenly emerged. Audacious!
The attorney-general (A-G) deserves applause. But before he takes the bow, the question: Why the charge in the first place? And why did it take so long to withdraw the charge?
Well, the A-G said the evidence given at the one-day trial did not support the charge. Surely this should have been evident from the investigation papers on the basis of which the sedition charge was framed.
These papers would have recorded their testimonies, which they repeated in court. I heard them all, nothing exceptional.
Putting a person through a criminal charge has deleterious impact on a person; for, if convicted, he or she stands to lose one’s liberty, job; even possibly a career wrecked.
This demands that the prosecutorial function should not be wielded ever so lightly.
Was this the case in this sedition charge, of Azmi and others?
Shortly after the charge was first laid, I wrote an open letter to the then A-G.
The letter made clear the non-viability of the charge. And the hurt not only to the accused but to academic freedom as a whole; and an undermining of the democratic ethos.
But – perhaps in true Malaysian style – never a word in response.
So why? Was it to send a “chilling effect” to all that certain criticisms are off-limits? Else a sedition charge, and the prospect of being jailed if convicted?
And that now that the point has been made over these several months, it was opportune to drop the charges?
Was the public interest element ever factored in before the charge was laid
So many questions that I then raised along with many others, and no real answers so far.
So yet another open appeal to Mr A-G: perhaps the time has come for a review of the prosecutions against the numerous others for sedition and related crimes – urgently – to check the haemorrhaging of our democratic credentials. – February 14, 2016.
Gurdial is professor at the Law Faculty, University of Malaya, and HAKAM Deputy President.