Arrest of Karpal for sedition in connection with  his defence of Anwar Ibrahim in court another major assault on the rule of law in attacking the independence and  immunity of lawyers in court

Media Conference Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday): The arrest of DAP Deputy National Chairman and former five-term MP for Jelutong, Karpal Singh yesterday for sedition in connection with his defence of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in court marks firstly, part of a crackdown against the Opposition in  the  aftermath of the worst electoral defeat of UMNO although the Barisan Nasional retained its political hegemony and two-thirds parliamentary majority in the recent "dirtiest" general election in the nationís history; and secondly, another major assault on the rule of law in attacking the independence and  immunity of lawyers in court.
The arrests of Karpal, Parti Keadilan Nasional vice president Marina Yusoff, Harakah editor Zulkifli Sulong and Harakah printer Chea Lin Thye, owner of printing firm Syarikat Prema yesterday, all under the Sedition Act, as well as the impending arrests of other Opposition leaders and activists, have cast a dark shadow  on  Malaysian democracy in the start of the new millennium.

After the recent general election, the  Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had made two points: firstly, he urged the  people to set aside their political differences and reunite now that the general election is over; secondly, that Malaysians do not practise democracy like the people in the West, who close ranks after a general election to work together for the nation.

The DAP had endorsed the call by the Prime Minister to the people to put the general election behind them and to restore national unity which had suffered the worst  damage in three decades  in the dirtiest election  campaign in the nationís history.  To set an example that Malaysians, regardless of race, religion and political beliefs, should try to work together for national good to promote    justice, freedom, democracy and good governance, I made a special point to lead a DAP delegation to call on the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad during the Hari Raya in Putrajaya as well as the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi at PWTC.

The crackdown yesterday, however, showed that that the Prime Minister is not interested in the process of national healing, as the wounds opened up by the dirtiest election in the nationís history will now deepen and fester with far-reaching repercussions for the  nation-building process.

It is not the Malaysian people who do not want to close ranks to work together for the national good, but the Barisan Nasional government under Mahathir who do not want the people to close ranks by practising a politics of hatred, spite and vendetta even after it had retained political hegemony and parliamentary two-thirds majority.

I am particularly aghast at the arrest and prosecution of Karpal for his court defence of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on Sept. 10, 1999 on sodomy trial relating to the allegation of arsenic poisoning.

On 9th October 1999, when there was intense UMNO pressure for the government to take action against Karpal for what he said in connection with the arsenic poisoning of Anwar, Mahathir conceded that Karpal enjoyed immunity for what he had said in court in his capacity as defence counsel for Anwar.

This was why he announced that the government was proposing to introduce a new Act pertaining to contempt of court purportedly to  ensure that "lawyers indulging in politics do not abuse the  court for political mileage and publicity".

Mingguan Malaysia of 10th October 1999 reported:

I do not fully agree with Mahathirís twisted comments, but the pertinent point here is that at that time, the Prime Minister conceded and upheld the right to immunity of Karpal as a lawyer in the conduct of his duties as defence counsel in court.

This was before the Nov. 29, 1999 general election.  Now, after the general election, Mahathir has refused to concede and respect the right of lawyers to immunity for what they say and do in their course of their duties in court, subject only to contempt proceedings, and this is why Karpal has been arrested and will be charged tomorrow under the Sedition Act.

Why this sudden change of mind?  Do we have a government of laws or a government of men in Malaysia?

Normally, a person is investigated before he is arrested.  In Karpalís case, he is arrested first before a statement was taken from him.

Was Karpalís arrest one of the last instructions of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad before he departed from KLIA early yesterday morning for Argentina and the Caribean for a two-week vacation?

There can be no doubt that Karpalís arrest was more political than legal. Probably, Mahathir blamed Karpal for UMNOís worst electoral debacle in party history.

Mahathir cannot deny that the Anwar factor was the major cause for UMNOís worst election showing in history, but he would not concede that this represented the cries for change and for the restoration of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.  Instead, he blamed it on the adverse publicity resulting from two Anwar episodes - the black-eye and the allegation over the arsenic poisoning.

It would appear that Karpal is now being made a scapegoat for UMNOís electoral setbacks in the recent general election, when the UMNO leadership should have responded positively to the general election result by conceding the need for reforms in the country.

For the sake of the nation, the Barisan Nasional government should desist from plunging the country into another dark night of repression as what happened 13 years ago in 1987 during Operasi Lalang.

No one in human history, however high-handed, autocratic and dictatorial, has ever succeeded in permanently stifling the peopleís aspiration for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance and Malaysia is not going to provide an exception.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman