Karpal Singh, a veteran Malaysian human rights lawyer and opposition MP, has been convicted of sedition for alleging that the Sultan of Perak was acting beyond his constitutional powers. The conviction and sentence has profound consequences for his professional and parliamentary life: he faces disbarment and disqualification. There are even more fundamental consequences for civil liberties and legitimacy of the Malaysian government and its legal system.
SUARAM has had sight of letters written by The Law Society of England and Wales and the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers to Malaysian Ministers and jurists calling on the authorities to comply with its legal obligations arising from both domestic and international law to protect freedom of expression.
Mr Nicholas Fluck, President of the Law Society, which is the professional body for more than 166,000 solicitors, points out that Karpal Singh, as both a lawyer and a parliamentarian was voicing his opinion about a legal matter of public concern.
“We have noted that the Malaysian government has recently increased the use of the Sedition Act [a948] against political opposition members and activists. These prosecutions are notwithstanding promises you [Prime Minister Najib) made in July 2012 to repeal the sedition law…”
He authoritatively considers the wording of the Malaysian Constitution and the Sedition Act and makes apparent that the prosecution of Karpal Singh is unsustainable and indefensible in domestic law and is furthermore contrary the Malaysia’s, as a member of the United Nations, obligations under international law to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms including freedom of opinion and expression, civil and political rights and the UN’s basic principles on the role of lawyers:
Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights. (UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990), Article 23).
The Law Society notes that this is not the first time the Malaysian Government has prosecuted Karpal Singh under the Sedition Act having previously arrested and charged him with making allegedly seditious remarks in court during trial. Karpal Singh’s case became the only known charge of sedition in any Commonwealth country against a lawyer for remarks made in court in defence of a client.
The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, an organisation of both barristers and solicitors who promote human rights and the rule of law for all, has also written to Malaysian Ministers and jurists supporting the view expressed by Human Rights Watch that the 1948 Sedition Act does not conform to international human rights law and using it to stifle criticism – let alone to silence lawyers expressing their professional legal views – is a draconian and authoritarian step clearly aimed at criminalising criticism and severely limiting the Malaysian people’s freedom to express views on legal and political issues.
Both the Law Society and the Haldane Society note that contrary to the Prime Minister’s promise, almost two years ago, to repeal the Sedition Act to allow for greater criticism of the Government, there has been a marked increase in it’s use against political opposition members and activists.
The Law Society and Haldane Society urge the Malaysian Government repeal the Sedition Act, stop persecuting lawyers and politicians for discussing matters of public interest and to comply with their international legal obligations to protect freedom of expression and participation in government: civil rights and liberties which are fundamental to a democratic society and the legitimacy of the Malaysian Government and legal system.
Mr Jasbir Singh