Amnesty International said it had long believed that the continued existence of an array of restrictive laws in Malaysia, many unable to be challenged in court, poses a grave threat to fundamental rights of freedom.
It said: "The organisation fears that the safeguards designed to
prevent the authorities from using such laws to initiate selective prosecution
for political purposes have been fundamentally weakened."
Of the recent spate of arrests, Amnesty International said government and opposition figures had made public statements that could be interpreted as potentially seditious but only opposition members had been charged.
"Charging political leaders and journalists with sedition threatens to strike at the heart of free speech in a democratic society," it said in a statement from London.
"When such prosecution appear to fall solely on opposition figures, public confidence in the rule of law risks being seriously undermined."
Can either the Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim or the Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohtar Abdullah respond to Amnesty Internationalís serious charge?
Malaysians are astounded by the arrests of DAP Deputy Chairman and former five-term MP for Jelutong Karpal Singh, Parti Keadilan Nasional Vice President Marina Yusoff, KeADILan Youth chief Mohamed Ezam Mohd Noor, Harakah editor Zulkifly Sulong and Harakah printer Cheah Lim Thye for many reasons.
Firstly, they wonder why the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir
Mohamad should embark on such a crackdown to launch such a massive
assault on the rule of law, press freedom, the right to information,
fundamental liberties and democracy when the Barisan Nasional had succeeded
in retaining its political hegemony and two-thirds parliamentary majority
in the recent general election.
Furthermore, Karpal, Marina and Ezam had all been defeated in the general election. Why was there the need to demand their "pint of blood" together with their "pound of flesh"?
Secondly, Malaysians are astounded by the nature of charges levelled against the three Barisan Alternative leaders.
Marina was charged at the Butterworth Sessions Court on Friday for sedition for her speech at a DAP ceramah in Bukit Mertajam on Sept 29, last year for saying that UMNO leaders had started the May 13 riots in 1969.
When did Mohtar Abdullah become the Attorney-General for UMNO? If UMNO feels defamed, it is for UMNO to take Marina to court. Why should the Attorney-General of Malaysia become the legal adviser for UMNO and institute prosecution against Marina?
If an allegation that UMNO started the May 13 riots is "seditious", then anyone who says that the Opposition or DAP had started the May 13 riots in 1969 is also seditious and the Attorney-General should prosecute them for the same offence.
In the run-up and during the recent general elections, acknowledged as the dirtiest election in the nationís history, many Barisan Nasional leaders had been very free in their allegations against the DAP and the Opposition for causing the May 13 riots in 1969 - which by precedent set by Marinaís prosecution, is a sedition offence.
DAP and Barisan Alternative parties, as well as ordinary Malaysians, should lodge police reports of sedition against any Barisan Nasional leader who had said that the May 13 riots in 1969 was caused by the Opposition, and this applies to mass media advertisements as well.
Ezam is the first political leader to be charged under 1986 OSA Amendment with mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence on conviction, entailing five-year disenfranchisement of civic and political rights
Thinking Malaysians are also astounded by the arrest and prosecution of Ezam under the Official Secrets Act for disclosing classified Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) reports to reporters last November in connection with ACA investigations into International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz and the former Malacca Chief Minister Tan Sri Rahim Tamby Cik.
These ACA reports have become an "open secret" of Malaysians although technically they are still covered by the Official Secrets Act (OSA), as they had been posted on the Internet for many months and they were also the subject of police reports by Anwar Ibrahim on corruption in high political circles in July/August last year.
In prosecuting Mohamad Ezam, the government is confirming that these are genuine ACA reports. In practical terms, this would mean that it is not an offence for Malaysians to read these OSA documents on the Internet, but it becomes an OSA offence when they are downloaded and distributed.
Although this is a mere technical offence under the OSA, what is not sufficiently realised by Malaysians is that Ezam will be the first political leader to be charged under 1986 OSA Amendment with mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence on conviction, entailing five-year disenfranchisement of civic and political rights after his release from jail.
This is really a most unjust, undemocratic and draconian law which has no place on the statute books of a modern and civilised nation.
But what is even more unbelievable is that there is no accountability whatsoever from anyone in authority as to why, if the two ACA reports are genuine documents, the ACA recommendations for the prosecution of Rafidah Aziz and Rahim Tamby Cik had been ignored - to the extent that Rafidah and Rahim have announced their intention to stand for UMNO party elections in May this year.
Malaysia becoming an international pariah in violating UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers in arresting and prosecuting Karpal Singh
But it is the arrest and prosecution of Karpal Singh for sedition in connection with what he said in court during the defence of former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, which has posed the latest threat to the rule of law in Malaysia.
In arresting and prosecuting Anwar, the Barisan Nasional government has gone against all international principles and standards on the role of lawyers, as for instance, in the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers reaffirmed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which enshrined the principles of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, and "all the guarantees necessary for the defence of everyone charged with a penal offence".
The Basic Principles require that all persons have "effective access to legal services provided by an independent legal profession" and that all nations respect and take into account these principles in their national legislation and practice and that they should be brought to the attention of lawyers as well as other persons, such as judges, prosecutors, members of the executive and the legislature, and the public in general.
Article 14 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers stipulate that "Lawyers, in protecting the rights of their clients and in promoting the cause of justice, shall seek to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international law and shall at all times act freely and diligently in accordance with the law and recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession".
The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers set out "Guarantees for
the functioning of lawyers", and the relevant parts are as follows:
"17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.
"18. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions.
"20. Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court, tribunal or other legal or administrative authority."
In prosecuting Karpal Singh for what he said in court during his defence of Anwar Ibrahim, the Barisan Nasional government has not only trampled on the traditional immunity of lawyers from state prosecution or persecution for their conduct in court apart from being subject to court contempt proceedings, but also violated international norms and principles like the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
It will be Malaysiaís national misfortune if the Barisan Nasional government is prepared to make the country a pariah in international civil society just to allow it to pursue the negative politics of spite, hate and vendetta against the Opposition.
DAP hopes that cooler heads in the Barisan Nasional government will prevail and that all charges against Karpal and Marina, Ezam, Zulkifly and Cheah would withdrawn unconditionally to allow for a national reconciliation process to begin in the country for Malaysians regardless of race, religion and political beliefs to work for the common prosperity of Malaysia. This should now be the top priority agenda of the Cabinet for its meeting next Wednesday.