(Kuala Lumpur, Thursday): Seventeen hours after the Court of Appeal decision about 5 p.m. yesterday, I am still in a state of shock. I am still feeling very outraged. I still cannot believe that the Court of Appeal had not only dismissed Lim Guan Eng’s appeal against conviction and sentence for sedition and "false news" charges, but have enhanced the sentence by setting aside the RM15,000 fine with 36-month jail sentences.
I am not alone in still in a state of shock, outrage and disbelief. The enhancement of Guan Eng’s sentence to 36 months’ jail has sent shock waves of outrage and disbelief throughout the country.
The Malacca High Court conviction and sentences of maximum RM5,000 fine for the sedition charge and RM10,000 fine for "false news" charge under the Printing Presses and Publications Act were already too severe, as they entail his disqualification as elected Member of Parliament, and the overwhelming majority of Malaysians reacted with shock, disbelief and outrage that disqualification of his Parliamentary status was inadequate and that he had to be sent to jail for 18 months for each offence, though they are to run concurrently.
I did not have high expectations of the Court of Appeal outcome, but I had thought that on the basis of the law and fact, Guan Eng might win in his appeal against both conviction and sentence on the sedition charge. On the "false news" charge, I had thought that there was a possibility of a reduction of sentence, although I was not optimistic that the RM10,000 fine could be reduced to below RM2,000 fine, where he would not have to suffer parliamentary disqualification.
I would have been very shocked if the Malacca High Court sentences had been maintained and I had never in my wildest nightmares expected the enhancement of the sentences to the extent of 36 months’ jail.
I know there are people who are very delighted by the enhancement of the sentences to 36 months’ jail, but I believe only a very small number of Malaysians would feel that there is anything to be happy or celebrate with the enhancement of Guan Eng’s jail sentence.
It is sad that at a time when it is imperative that all efforts should be mobilised to tide the country through the worst economic crisis in the country’s history, another factor has developed which would make Malaysians wonder whether there is something wrong in a system where an elected MP faces the peril not only of disqualification, but of a 36-month term in jail for trying to do his duty to defend the weak and defenceless against the mighty and powerful.
Malaysians cannot but see the contrast in the fate of Lim Guan Eng and Tan Sri Rahim Tamby Cik. Guan Eng has brought down Tan Sri Rahim Tamby Cik as Malacca Chief Minister although the latter is still valiantly trying to make a political comeback in UMNO politics.
But unlike Lim Guan Eng, Rahim Tamby Cik does not have to worry about any criminal charges or jail sentences.
Malaysians are rightly aghast as to how Guan Eng could be regarded as a "criminal" who should be put away from society for 36 months for trying to right injustices in our society and defend the weak and powerless.
This, surely, is not conducive to inspiring confidence whether national or international.
It is therefore specially tragic that the latest development in Lim Guan Eng’s case would further undermine Malaysia’s international image, at a time when Malaysia should take special pains to repair and enhance our international standing, which had suffered a lot of battering recently for various reasons.
Amnesty International, in its immediate reaction from London yesterday, protested against the decision of the Court of Appeal to jail Guan Eng to three years' imprisonment on charges which the organization believes to be politically motivated.
The Amnesty International statement said:
"The High Court originally convicted Lim Guan Eng in 1997, imposing a fine of RM 15,000 (approximately US $6,000) which would have been sufficient to disqualify him from parliament. Apparently not satisfied with this, the Malaysian authorities then appealed the High Court's judgement asking for the fines to be replaced by two concurrent custodial sentences, amounting to three years in prison, and also calling on the Court of Appeal not to grant bail.
"Amnesty International is concerned that the government continues to use an array of restrictive legislation, like the Printing Presses and Publications Act, in an arbitrary and selective manner. The case against him appears to reflect a desire not only to detain and silence a prominent critic, removing him from participation in public life, but also to deter others from the expression of dissenting opinion.
"If the custodial sentences are subsequently upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal, and Lim Guan Eng is imprisoned, the organization would consider him to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for expressing his political views.
"Amnesty International regrets that the Court of Appeal chose to interpret the law in a manner that, in effect, risks a further erosion of the right to freedom of expression in Malaysia. The organization is calling for his conviction to be overturned."
Finally, I want to advert to the charge of nepotism which had been levelled against me in connection with Guan Eng, especially by certain Barisan Nasional parties and leaders, that I am grooming him politically.
Guan Eng’s latest ordeal should be the best answer. Guan Eng does not get contracts, businesses, mega-loans, mega-projects or bail-outs of his companies when they are in trouble (in fact Guan Eng does not have any such company). What Guan Eng gets are only pain and suffering, as the 18-month detention under the Internal Security Act after 14 months of involvement in politics in 1987 and the 36-month jail sentences for conscientiously and diligently discharging his duties as a political leader and Member of Parliament to defend the rights of all Malaysians, regardless of race, religion or gender.
What Guan Eng has received from my "nepotism" are not business opportunities, mega-contracts and mega-loans, but a crown of thorns, the destruction of his political life as well as putting in jeopardy his own public life and the welfare of his family and children.
In future, those who want to level charges of nepotism against me must ask themselves whether they are prepared to see their children going to jail or being detained under the Internal Security Act for their rights of the people rather than getting unusual money-making opportunities often at public expense.