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TheAge: Malaysia drops sedition charge
By Mark Baker
15/1/2002 3:04 am Tue
[Wartawan dan peguam adalah dua profesyen yang amat menggerunkan Mahathir
sebab itulah mereka sentiasa diancam dan dicekam. Inilah dua bidang
penting (kerana berunsur analisa dan pendedahan) yang bisa mengubah arah
politik tanah-air. Inilah bidang yang mampu membunuh atau terbunuh sendirian
hanya dengan beberapa patah perkataan....
Malaysia drops sedition charge
By MARK BAKER
The Malaysian Government yesterday bowed to intense international
pressure and abandoned a prosecution that could have led to the
country's most famous criminal barrister being jailed for sedition.
Karpal Singh was acquitted and discharged after Attorney-General
Abdul Gani Patail shocked and delighted international legal
observers by withdrawing the sedition charge an hour after the trial
began in the High Court in Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Karpal had been charged over comments he made while
defending former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
Mr Gani told the court he had been swayed by the outcry in legal
circles over the unprecedented charge, which was seen to challenge
the principle of a lawyer's privilege to speak openly in court while
defending a client.
Mr Karpal, 60, was charged for suggesting during Mr Anwar's trail on
corruption and sex charges, in September, 1999, that the former heir
apparent to Dr Mahathir Mohamad may have been poisoned
deliberately after evidence was produced that his prison food
An outspoken human rights advocate and deputy leader of
Malaysia's opposition Democratic Action Party, Mr Karpal has
defended several high-profile Western prisoners, including
Australians Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers, executed for drug
trafficking in 1986.
A jubilant crowd of local supporters, foreign legal observers and
diplomats surrounded Mr Karpal as he left the court.
"It's a relief after having this hanging over me so long," said Mr
Karpal, who faced a three-year prison sentence if convicted.
"This is a step in the right direction for Malaysia's legal system but I
am surprised that they decided to wait for such a long time before
dropping the case."
Legal associations throughout the Commonwealth had denounced the
charge as a threat to barristers' independence. Amnesty International
said the case had undermined "the already shaky confidence in the
rule of law and the administration of justice" in Malaysia.
"It was the first time that any lawyer has been charged with saying
something in the interests of his client in a court of law," said Perth
QC Mark Trowell, who attended yesterday's hearing for the
Australian Bar Association and Australian Law Council.
The charge was withdrawn after Justice Augustine Paul - who jailed
Mr Anwar for 15 years - refused leave for Commonwealth legal
representatives to be granted formal observer status and reacted
angrily to Mr Karpal's application for the judge to be disqualified from
hearing the case.
Justice Augustine later ordered the court registrar to seek a
Malaysian Bar Council disciplinary committee hearing against Mr
Karpal for misconduct in challenging the judge's impartiality.
Mr Gani, a tough former public prosecutor who became
Attorney-General this month, said his office had received many
representations from local and international legal bodies over the
charging of Karpal Singh, whose comments had been made during
an intense trial.
"Today, having reconsidered the circumstances and the
representations, and taking into consideration the public interest, the
public prosecutor is of the view that it is appropriate to exercise his
discretion ... to discontinue and withdraw the charge," Mr Gani said.
But he said the allegation of an attempt to poison Mr Anwar remained
baseless. While traces of arsenic had been found in Mr Anwar's
prison food, the amounts were within permissible levels and
investigations had shown no evidence of impropriety.