Malaysian Court Sentences 9 Filipinos to Death for Sabah Incursion

Ray Sherman
Kuala Lumpur
170608-PH-sulu-1000 Self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III meets with reporters at his home in Manila, March 6, 2013.

A Malaysian court Thursday sentenced nine Filipinos to death for taking part in a foiled incursion in the eastern state of Sabah that left more than 70 people dead four years ago.

A three-member Appeals Court panel in Putrajaya overturned last year’s life sentences handed to the nine defendants by a lower court, which convicted them of participating in the incursion. The prosecution had appealed to the appellate court to change those sentences to capital punishment.

Court documents said the nine belonged to the Royal Sulu Force, who identified themselves as followers of the late Jamalul Kiram III, the self-proclaimed sultan of Sulu in the southern Philippines.

Amirbahar Hushin Kiram, the nephew of Kiram III, was among the nine Filipinos who received the death penalty on Thursday.

As he delivered the death sentence on Thursday, Justice Mohd Zawawi Salleh described the attack as unprecedented in Malaysia and said prosecutors compiled enough evidence proving that the intrusion had been pre-planned and carefully executed.

“For above reasons, we allow the appeal and set aside the sentence imposed by High Court against the respondents and substitute it with the death penalty against each of the respondents,” Zawawi said.

They came by sea

In February 2013, a band of some 200 armed men arrived in a flotilla of rickety boats from the nearby Sulu islands, and occupied part of the coastline of Sabah, which lies in Malaysian Borneo, for several weeks as they asserted the sultanate’s claim of historical rule over Sabah.

The incursion was Malaysia’s most serious security crisis in recent memory. Seventy-two people, including 56 Sulu gunmen, 10 members of the Malaysian security forces and six civilians were killed in gunfights that spread over several weeks. The fighting ended when the remaining militants fled and returned to the Philippines.

The nine Filipinos, aged between 42 and 77, were among 23 men who faced multiple charges, including “waging war against the King of Malaysia,” which is punishable by death or life in prison under Section 121 of the Malaysian Penal Code.

The other defendants received sentences ranging from 10 to 18 years.

Reacting to Thursday’s courtroom ruling in Malaysia, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said Manila would continue to extend legal assistance to the Filipinos, noting that the Court of Appeal’s decision was not final.

“[The case] will be heard by the Federal Court of Malaysia [Supreme Court] under automatic appeal,” the department said in a statement.

The Sultanate of Sulu, which was founded in 1405, ruled the islands in the Sulu Archipelago, parts of Mindanao in the southern Philippines and parts of Borneo, including Sabah, until about the early 19th century. Sabah was incorporated into Malaysia in 1963, but the country still pays token rent to the Sulu Sultanate on an annual basis.

Because of the short distance between Malaysia and the southern Philippines, many Filipinos mostly from the Mindanao islands have migrated to Sabah during the 1970s to escape the armed conflict between government forces and secessionist guerrillas.

About 800,000 Filipinos live in Sabah, which has a population of more than 3.5 million.  

Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.


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