Public Statement - The Law Society of Upper Canada Expresses Concern about the Conviction of Karpal Singh by Malaysian Authorities

TORONTO, May 6, 2014 /CNW/ - The Law Society of Upper Canada is gravely concerned over the conviction of prominent human rights lawyer and parliamentarian Karpal Singh, for sedition. He was arrested, tried and convicted for sedition based on his response to media questions during a February 6, 2009 press conference. Reliable reports indicate that Karpal Singh recently died in a car accident as he was traveling between Kuala Lumpur and Penang to attend a court hearing. The death of Karpal Singh does not lessen the Law Society's concern over the rule of law violations by Malaysian authorities.

During the press conference, Karpal Singh remarked that the removal of Mohammad Nizar and the Sultan of Perak's appointment of Datuk Sier Dr. Zambry Abdul Kadir as the new Menteri Besar, chief executive of Perak's state government, could be questioned in court. His comment was considered seditious and he was charged under Section 4 (1) (b) of Malaysia's Sedition Act, 1948.

On June 11, 2010, the High Court acquitted and discharged Karpal Singh. However, the prosecution appealed his acquittal and the Court of Appeal ordered a new trial. The High Court found Karpal Singh guilty of sedition on February 21, 2014. He was then sentenced on March 11, 2014 to pay a fine of RM 4,000. The effect of this sentence meant that Karpal Singh could be disqualified and removed as a member of parliament for answering media questions.

Karpal Singh resigned as the Democratic Action Party (DAP) Chairman following his conviction under Malaysia's Sedition Act.

There is an impact to both political speech and free speech when lawyers and lawmakers who are commenting on events while discharging their duties are convicted for sedition. The Malaysian government's use of the Sedition Act against groups and individuals is considered both improper and arbitrary. Individual freedom of expression has been disproportionately affected by the government's use of the Act. Karpal Singh was responding to the media in his role as both a lawyer and a lawmaker.

The Law Society is deeply concerned about situations where lawyers are targeted in the legitimate exercise of their duties. Article 16 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states "governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely; and shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics". Article 18 states "lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients' causes as a result of discharging their functions".

The Law Society urges the government of Malaysia to:

a.      guarantee all the procedural rights that should be accorded to human rights defenders in Malaysia;
b.      put an end to all acts of harassment against human rights defenders in Malaysia;
c.      ensure that all lawyers can carry out their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of physical violence or other human rights violations; and
d.      ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments.

The Law Society of Upper Canada is the governing body for 46,200 lawyers and 6,200 paralegals in the Province of Ontario, Canada, and the Treasurer is the head of the Law Society. The mandate of the Law Society is to govern the legal profession in the public interest by upholding the independence, integrity and honour of the legal profession for the purpose of advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law.

The Law Society urges the legal community to intervene in support of members of the legal profession in their effort to advance the respect of human rights and to promote the rule of law.

 

SOURCE: The Law Society of Upper Canada

For further information:

please contact Lisa Hall at 416-947-7625 or lhall@lsuc.on.ca.

The Law Society of Upper Canada
Osgoode Hall
130 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON  M5H 2N6


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