KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 12 — Sirul Azhar Umar, one of the commandos found guilty of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu's 2006 murder, is now a free man in Australia after a High Court there ruled against indefinite detention.
Guardian Australia reported Sirul was one of 92 men released from the country’s detention centres in what human rights lawyers deemed as a landmark ruling that would put an end to a two-decade immigration law that allowed the authorities to detain foreign citizens indefinitely who cannot be deported back.
Sirul’s lawyer, William Levingston, confirmed to the news outlet that Sirul had been released after the high court decision but could not be deported back to Malaysia.
“My client is facing death by hanging in Malaysia for a murder conviction and until the death penalty is abolished by the Malaysian government, the Australian government is unable to deport Sirul Umar due to non-refoulement obligations,” he was quoted saying.
Sirul was the bodyguard of former Malaysian prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. He had spent nine years in an immigration detention facility in Australia since his claim for asylum in Australia was rejected in 2019.
The Australian government has a policy against deporting anyone to a country where they would face the death penalty.
In 2009, Sirul and fellow Special Action Unit commando Azilah Hadri were sentenced to death for the October 2006 murder of Altantuya in a gruesome case that garnered national interest and fuelled political conspiracy theories that remain popular to this day.
The Mongolian woman was first shot in an execution-style killing before being blown up with military-grade explosives.
The Federal Court reinstated their death sentences in 2015 after the Court of Appeal quashed them, but Sirul fled to Australia before the apex court’s ruling and has been detained there since.
He previously sought a moratorium on his sentence in return for “tell-all” about the murder that has been linked to former prime minister Najib by way of former aide Abdul Razak Baginda, but the Malaysian government rejected this.
In 2007, Altantuya’s father Shaariibuu Setev and his wife Altantsetseg Sanjaa, as well as two of their grandsons Mungunshagai Bayarjargal and Altanshagai Munkhtulga filed a RM100 million lawsuit against Azilah Hadri, Sirul Azhar, Razak Baginda and the Malaysian government.
Guardian Australia reported about 50 people affected by the ruling have already been released. Many so far have been released without visas, which the newspaper said underscored the urgency of ensuring the commonwealth did not face false imprisonment compensation claims.
Their status is expected to be regularised with bridging visas in days or weeks, the paper added.
* A previous version of this story contained an error which has since been corrected.