Malaysia abruptly dropped all charges on Friday against two lawmakers and 10 others facing allegations of supporting the Sri Lankan rebel group Tamil Tigers, saying there was no realistic prospect that any of the accused would be convicted.
Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said the 12 men were facing 34 charges after police found some photos of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the slain founder of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in their mobile phones and Facebook accounts.
“If such conduct can constitute a criminal offense, it would bring the law into disrepute,” Thomas said. “I have decided that there is no realistic prospect of conviction for any of the 12 accused.”
He said his order to discontinue court proceedings against the accused would be effective immediately.
Assemblymen Gunasekaran Palasamy and Saminathan Ganesan and the 10 other men were arrested in October last year and were charged under the nation’s draconian anti-terrorism law, the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act, or SOSMA. They could have faced sentencings of up to 30 years in prison, if convicted. The courts denied their bail.
Thomas did not make it clear why prosecutors filed the charges in the first place, but said in his statement that he had considered the facts that only became known to him after charges had been laid out.
“Harm to Malaysians cannot be established by the prosecution,” he said.
Annun Nancy, Gunasekaran’s daughter, expressed relief upon hearing the news.
“We were speechless and overwhelmed with joy,” she told BenarNews.
Ram Karpal, defense lawyer for seven of the accused men, welcomed the attorney-general’s decision.
“Acts of terrorism can surely never be condoned,” he told BenarNews, “but the nature of the charges against the 12 suggested they never committed any acts of terrorism.”
The 34 charges mostly included “giving support” through social media and “possession” of items associated with LTTE, which Malaysia outlawed as a terrorist group in November 2014.
Gunasekaran, 60, and Saminathan, 34, are members of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a component of Malaysia’s ruling Pakatan Harapan bloc. Gunasekaran is a deputy chairman of DAP and an assemblyman in western Negeri Sembilan state, and Saminathan is a member of the Malacca State Legislative Assembly.
They were charged after they allegedly delivered speeches and distributed reading materials in support of slain LTTE fighters during a public event in Malacca two years ago.
LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, vowed to carve out a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka and fought Colombo for 26 years, but government forces declared victory against the group in May 2009 after a military offensive that killed thousands of people and led to Prabhakaran’s death.
Thomas said the accusations against the 12 men carried one common theme: They were in possession of Prabhakaran’s photographs either on their online accounts or in their cell phones.
But Thomas said historical personalities and slain revolutionary leaders had often been subjects of adoration.
“Millions of people across the globe admire Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung or Che Guevara,” he said. “Having their photos and other representations in one’s mobile phone or on a Facebook account does not transform one to being a terrorist.”