Malaysia Drops Sedition Charge Against Critic

Fahirul N. Ramli
2016.02.12
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160212-MY-sedition-620 University of Malaya law lecturer Azmi Sharon (center) waves to journalists after he was charged with sedition in Kuala Lumpur, Sept. 2, 2014.
AFP

A surprise move by the Malaysian Attorney General Friday to halt sedition proceedings against a Malaysian law professor has raised hopes that similar cases may be dropped.

University Malaya Associate Professor Azmi Shahrom was facing a single charge of sedition over a comment published in a newspaper in 2014 that criticized a central government intervention in Perak state politics in 2009.

Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali gave no reason for his decision but said the practice of reassessing cases in court had and would continue.

“In the interest of justice and after reviewing the evidence given by all the prosecution witness in court, I am using my discretion under Article 145(3) of the Federal Constitution and decide to halt the prosecution against Assoc Prof Dr Azmi for the charge under Section 4 (1) Sedition Act 1948,” he said in a press statement issued Friday.

‘You cannot be too careful’

Azmi is an avid political activist and a sought-after critic on Malaysian constitutional law and related matters. He is also a regular columnist for a Malaysian English daily, The Star.

Contacted by BenarNews, Azmi cautiously welcomed the attorney general’s statement but said it was not official “until presented in court.”

“It is not official as of yet, and in Malaysia, you cannot be too careful,” he told BenarNews, adding that a final decision would come by the end of next week or on Monday, Feb. 22.

Still, he said he was thankful and glad that “common sense has prevailed.”

“I think that I should be free of the charge, of course. I am grateful to my family, my lawyers, my friends and to so many people, who I don’t even know, who have been so supportive of my cause,” he said.

In his statement, Apandi said there was precedent for the halting of a sedition prosecution. He cited a case involving opposition Member of Parliament Teresa Kok.

Azmi was facing a maximum fine of RM5,000 (U.S.$1,205), a maximum of three years in jail or both, upon conviction.

On Oct. 6, a five-member panel of the Federal Court ruled that the Sedition Act was valid and therefore Azmi had to stand trial for his charge.

The prosecution on Jan. 14 closed its case against Azmi with the testimony of its last witness, investigating officer Inspector Mohd Izwan Paijan.

‘A flicker of light’

Malaysian civil society group Abolish the Sedition Act Movement (GHAH) welcomed the decision but was skeptical about the motive behind it.

“The Attorney General should not make this move as a publicity stunt to cover-up his controversial decision to clear Prime Minister Najib Razak from the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission investigation,” it said in a statement.

Late last month, Apandi cleared the Malaysian leader of potential corruption charges over nearly U.S. $700 million deposited into his private bank accounts in 2013, saying “no criminal offense” had been committed and the sum was a “personal donation” from Saudi Arabia’s royal family.

GHAH added that Apandi must show “his sincerity in its efforts to reform the legal system in Malaysia.”

Human Rights Watch Deputy Director of Asia Division Phil Robertson meanwhile said Azmi “should never have been prosecuted in the first place.”

“But at least now there appears to be a flicker of candle light in the dark tunnel of Sedition Act prosecutions being brought by the Malaysian authorities against numerous lawyers, NGO activists, opposition MPs, and academics,” he said in a statement.

Apandi should realize it is wrong to criminalize the public for expressing political views against the government, Robertson added.

“The AG should immediately drop the sedition cases against the many people hit with charges in 2015, such as cartoonist Zunar, lawyer Eric Paulsen, opposition politician N. Surendran, and more than two dozen others,” he said.

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