Ruling reserved on sedition charge against Malaysian Indian lawyer

April 22nd, 2009 - 2:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Kuala Lumpur, April 22 (IANS) A Malaysian court will decide April 28 on veteran ethnic Indian lawyer-lawmaker Karpal Singh’s bid to get a discharge on a sedition charge levelled against him for criticising a royal constitutional head.
The High Court said that it would announce its ruling on whether Karpal Singh will succeed in his bid to get a discharge not amounting to an acquittal of the sedition charge against him, Star Online said Wednesday.

Singh claimed trial March 13 to the sedition charge after he was alleged to have uttered seditious words during a media conference relating to Sultan of Perak state, Sultan Azlan Shah’s consent to remove Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin as mentri besar (chief minister) of the opposition-run government.

He allegedly committed the offence at his law firm Messrs Karpal Singh & Co Feb 6 while speaking to the media.

The Perak state government had lost majority due to defection and the Sultan had sworn in another government.

Singh had said that the royal chief could be taken to court for his action. This was termed a seditious act under the Malaysian law.

If convicted he faces a maximum RM5,000 ($1500 approx.) fine or three years in jail, or both, under the Sedition Act.

He was initially charged in the Sessions Court March 17, but the case was transferred to the High Court.

Karpal Singh, 69, also heads the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is a major constituent of the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat.

The Bar Council of Malaysia has criticised the use of the Sedition Act 1948 against Karpal Singh.

Council president K. Ragunath said the act was a draconian and archaic piece of legislation that undermined democratic institutions.

“The act severely encroaches upon the public enjoyment and exercise of fundamental civil liberties,” he said in a statement.

Ragunath added that Karpal Singh’s action in voicing his opinion that a state ruler can be brought to court was permissible under the constitution and did not amount to sedition.

“At no time did he voice disrespect for or challenge the institution of the monarchy in any way,” he said. The council urged the government to seriously review the act with the aim of its eventual dissolution.

“The charge against Karpal Singh must be immediately withdrawn,” said Ragunath, also an ethnic Indian.

Estimated at over two million, ethnic Indians form eight percent of Malaysia’s 28 million population.

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