The prosecution of Karpal Singh under the Sedition Act punishable with three years’ jail for comments he made in court while acting as the lead defence counsel in the sodomy trial of former Deputy Prime Minister and current prisoner of conscience, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is a scandal and outrage for the Malaysian system of justice, marking a grave setback from its painful emergence from the judicial Dark Age when it was the scorn of national and international legal and judicial community as well as world opinion.
This is why with the sedition trial of Karpal, Malaysia is back in the international “dock” for violating international norms of conduct of civilized nations which cherish the just rule of law, with representatives from international legal and judicial organisations from all corners of the globe present in the Kuala Lumpur High Court this morning to observe the proceedings, such as Lawasia, the International Bar Association, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Datuk Param Cumaraswamy.
The prosecution of a lawyer for comments in court will cause irreparable injury to justice as it is unprecedented in the Commonwealth and in Common Law where it is an established and entrenched principle and rule of law that lawyers enjoy absolute privilege for all statements during legal proceedings.
It also runs counter to international law, which guarantees lawyers' immunity in Article 20 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers which states:
"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 addition, Article 16(a) of the same Principles states that "Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference".
There are two other reasons which would make the prosecution of Karpal
for sedition even more outrageous, namely:
There is a further compelling reason why the official authorities should drop the sedition charge against Karpal and bring Malaysia back to the international norms and mainstream of conduct of civilized nations by upholding the just rule of law and scrupulous respect of the absolute privilege of lawyers for all statements made during legal proceedings.
Malaysia has in recent times been inundated with enough “headaches” detrimental to the country’s international reputation, threatening to drive away investors and tourists from our shores and underming the country’s economic recovery efforts - whether KMM, Malaysia as a transit point for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda operatives, the declaration of Malaysia as an Islamic state by the Prime Minister, PAS’ announcement of jihad over US airstrikes in Afghanistan and the latest round-the-clock news report over CNN of the lethal anthrax bacteria by mail from Malaysia.
Malaysia can do without another international scandal especially as Karpal’s sedition trial will have the effect of a “political anthrax” to undermine Malaysia’s attractiveness and reliability as an investment destination.