KUALA LUMPUR, April 27 — The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) yesterday expressed its disappointment with Perlis Mufti  Datuk Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin for saying that is “sinful” for Muslim lawyers to defend wrongdoers in court.

The commission pointed out that everyone has the fundamental right to be represented in court as it is an important element in any justice system and must be respected.

It added that this right is also enshrined in the country’s highest law — the Federal Constitution — citing Article 5(3) as guaranteeing the right to be represented by a legal practitioner of the person’s choice and Article 8 that provides equal protection to everyone under the law.

“Access to legal counsel is a cornerstone of our criminal justice system, and a crucial safeguard for the rights of a detained person.

“A person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty and as such he is entitled to legal representation and the right to be defended in a court of law,” Suhakam stressed.

It reiterated its call for the authorities to uphold this fundamental right to all.

Suhakam also backed de facto Law Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar for clarifying that it was not up to lawyers but judges to decide if a person is guilty or innocent in a trial.

Mohd Asri, also known as Dr Maza, made the remark on the official website of the Perlis State Mufti Department on December 15, 2019, which was recently shared on his personal Facebook page on April 19.

In the post, he said that he was asked by several lawyers who had questioned him about their careers having to defend clients whom they know were in the wrong, but owing to their technical knowledge of the matters, they take up such cases because of the legal fees paid.

“If a person knows that the matter being defended is wrong, or he believes it is not true yet he still defends because of his own self-interest or prejudice, or his unjust attitude, then he is sinful.

“In addition to the knowledge he possesses, a person should fear Allah by asking himself whether the action of defending or opposing in a case is pleasing to Allah.

“On this basis then a lawyer should evaluate the cases he takes as the defence,” Mohd Asri wrote.

He said that if the lawyer knew the case he accepted is “on the wrong side” just because he had been paid, “then that is a sin and the money is an illicit sustenance”.

“The sin of the money taken is worse than a prostitute because the sin of the prostitute is between her and God alone. While the sin of invalid litigation is cruelty to the other party,” the mufti added.

It is unclear what prompted Mohd Asri to repost his 2019 remarks last week.

However, Malaysians have been riled up and posted scathing comments against the lawyers defending Siti Bainun Ahd Razali, the founder of charity body Rumah Bonda, who is on trial for abusing Bella, a teenage girl with Down Syndrome that had been in her care.