KUALA LUMPUR, March 11 — Veteran DAP MP Karpal Singh was today fined RM4,000 by the High Court here for sedition, putting the 73-year-old at risk of losing his Bukit Gelugor seat.
While the Federal Constitution disqualifies any lawmaker who receives a fine of over RM2,000 or a jail sentence of more than one year from holding public office as an elected representative, Malaysian Bar president Chris Leong said Karpal can still keep his seat pending an appeal to a court.
“Under the Federal Constitution, a sitting member of Parliament will not be disqualified until all avenues of appeal have been exhausted and determined,” Leong, who was one of the lawyers holding a watching brief for the Bar Council, told reporters here after the court decision today.
High Court judge Datuk Paduka Azman Abdullah handed down the sentence after over two hours of arguments by Karpal’s defence team and the prosecution, which saw heated exchanges between the two.
Charged under Section 4 (1) (b) of the Sedition Act 1948, the Bukit Gelugor MP faced a maximum fine of RM5,000 or three years’ jail, or both.
But while Azman noted the need for deterrent sentences, he took into account two medical reports on Karpal’s health when deciding not to impose any jail sentence on the latter.
When presenting arguments to mitigate Karpal’s sentence, his daughter and lawyer Sangeet Kaur mentioned a 2005 motor accident that left the politician wheelchair bound and in need of various medical treatments.
The decision was handed down in a courtroom packed with top Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leaders and supporters, media personnel, lawyers and other observers.
A row of benches was added, while others stood and filled up the courtroom’s side aisles.
Earlier, the judge decided not to hear submissions by the Bar Council and the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association, who wanted to present arguments in favour of mitigating Karpal’s sentence.
Besides the Bar Council — represented by Leong, the Bar’s vice-president Steven Thiru, Datuk Baljit Singh Sidhu; the Commonwealth Lawyers Association and Lawasia held watching briefs through Datuk Cyrus Das and Mark Trowell.
In the final stages of the proceedings earlier, deputy public prosecutor Noorin Badaruddin argued that it would amount to an “insult to the royal institution” if the court only hands down a light sentence or a disproportionate sentence.
This prompted Karpal’s son Gobind Singh Deo, who is also part of the defence team, to accuse the prosecution team of “threatening” the court into imposing a heavy sentence, which resulted in the judge expunging or striking out several paragraphs in Noorin’s submission from the court’s record.
On February 21 this year, Karpal was found guilty of sedition over his remarks on the Perak Sultan’s role in the 2009 state constitutional crisis.
Following the fresh trial after the prosecution’s successful appeal of Karpal’s previous acquittal, the judge ruled last month that the defence had failed to raise reasonable doubt.
In 2010, the DAP national chairman had been acquitted by Azman without having to enter his defence over the sedition charge stemming from a press conference in February 2009 in which he said the Perak Ruler’s decision to remove Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin as mentri besar in favour of Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir was open to legal challenge.
The prosecution later appealed the acquittal successfully in 2012, insisting that Azman took a flawed approach in arriving at his decision then.
In 2009, three Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers defected to become pro-Barisan Nasional (BN) independents, which caused the state won by the informal pact in Election 2008 to fall back into the hands of the latter coalition.
Karpal’s conviction last month had attracted criticism, with critics pointing out that Putrajaya had continued to use the Sedition Act despite previously promising in July 2012 to repeal the now 66-year-old law.
A number of federal opposition (PR) politicians and activists were also charged last year under the Sedition Act.