Malaysia: Conviction of Karpal Singh a setback for the rule of law and freedom of expression

Paris, Kuala Lumpur, February 24, 2014 –The Malaysian government must stop using colonial-era repressive laws to harass political opposition leaders, FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) and its member organization Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) said today.
On February 21, 2014, the Kuala Lumpur High Court found Democratic Action Party (DAP) Chairman Karpal Singh guilty under Section 4(1) (b) of the 1948 Sedition Law. The case stemmed from a press conference on February 6, 2009, in which Karpal Singh questioned the decision of Sultan of Perak State Azlan Shah to fire the then Chief Minister Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin.
“Under the rule of law, no one is above the law. A decision of the monarch can be scrutinized in a judicial process under a constitutional monarchy system. Mr. Karpal Singh has been prosecuted for merely expressing a legal opinion. This is clearly inconsistent with international standards for freedom of opinion and expression, including Article 19 of the International Declaration of Human Rights,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. [1] “Malaysia must urgently repeal its outdated Sedition Law and all the other draconian laws inherited by the British colonial administration,” he urged.
The court set the sentencing for March 11. Singh, 73, faces up to three years in prison or a 5,000 ringgit (US$1,515) fine or both. He also risks losing his parliamentary seat because the Malaysian Constitution stipulates that an MP must be removed from office if fined more than 2,000 ringgit or jailed for a term exceeding one year.
“The Malaysian government’s increasing use of draconian legislation to harass and silence political opponents and human rights defenders is a matter of grave concern,” said SUARAM Executive Director Yap Swee Seng. “Over 18 months ago, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the Sedition Law would be abolished. But as his government struggles to maintain its shaky grip on power, Najib has failed to keep his promise. Instead, Najib’s administration has stepped up prosecutions of opposition leaders under this law,” Mr. Yap added.
Karpal Singh was initially acquitted of sedition charges on June 11, 2010. However, following an appeal by the prosecution, on January 20, 2012, the Court of Appeals reversed the acquittal and ordered Karpal Singh to stand trial on the original charges.
Another member of Malaysia opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, is currently on trial on politically motivated charges under another colonial-era law. Anwar has been charged under Section 377 of the Malaysian Criminal Code, which criminalizes sex between adult men. Karpal Singh represented Anwar during the latter’s first and second sodomy trials.