PETALING JAYA: Human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen is demanding that the authorities stop “harassing” lawyers in the course of their duties.
This comes after prominent lawyer Siti Kasim was charged with the alleged obstruction of a public servant in carrying out her functions.
Paulsen, who is the Lawyers for Liberty’s executive director, said instead of investigating and charging lawyers for performing their roles, the authorities should ensure that international standards such as the United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers are compiled with.
Article 16 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, among others, states that governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference and that they should not be threatened with prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with their duties.
“The criminal charge against Siti is a serious attack on the independence of the Bar Council and has enormous ramifications on the rights of lawyers to uphold the cause of justice without fear or favour,” Paulsen told FMT.
“Siti was merely performing her role as a lawyer and the public will be adversely affected if lawyers – under harassment and intimidation – begin to fear criminal charges or threats to their safety and security for speaking out.”
On June 23, Siti Kasim claimed trial to a charge of preventing Islamic religious enforcement officer Siti Nor Jihan Saleh @ Md Ghazali from discharging her duties on April 3, 2016 at a private event at the Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
Siti Kasim was charged under Section 186 of the Penal Code, which carries a jail term of not more than two years or a maximum fine of RM10,000 or both, upon conviction.
The charge was brought against her after a video of her shouting at Jawi officers, asking if they had a warrant to raid the closed-door event, went viral on social media last year.
Paulsen claimed that the authorities had not set their priorities straight when they “targeted” Siti and those who attended the private event.
“The authorities should question whether there was such a need in the first place to interfere in such a high-handed manner in the private lives of citizens, and infringing on their freedom.”
On Saturday, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) urged the government to drop the charge against Siti, citing protection stated under the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
Suhakam chairman Razali Ismail had said in a statement that the agency was “dismayed” that Siti was detained and later charged despite her identifying herself as a lawyer representing her clients during the raid on a private event.