Malaysia: Charges against socialists discharged, but no acquittal

Once the judge announced his decision, the courtroom erupted to cheers of Hidup Rakyat, Hidup Perjuangan' (Long live the people, long live the fight).

By Susan Loone

October 10, 2011 -- Malaysiakini -- The 24 Socialist Party of Malaysia (Parti Sosialis Malaysia) activists facing charges under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and Societies Act were given a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA) by a Butterworth sessions court. The decision on six other activists, who were absent today, was put off to October 28.

Those who were absent were Sungai Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, M. Sukumaran, M. Santhana Devi, M. Ravindran, M. Kavitha and S. Thivya Kumar.

Judge Ikmal Hishan Mohd Tajuddin delivered the ruling after deliberating on it for almost two hours

Earlier, deputy public prosecutor Suhaimi Ibrahim recommended the discharge not amounting to acquittal ruling, saying a court case on whether the Bersih (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) 2.0 was an illegal movement or not was pending. He said the NGO coalition had been granted leave to challenge the ban on it by the Home Ministry.

Suhaimi said his recommendation was also based on the government’s plan to abolish the ISA by next March.

Defence lawyer K. Prabakaran argued that the charges should be dismissed outright as the 30 activists had not committed any offence on the date of their arrest on June 25, for Bersih 2.0 was only declared illegal on July 1.

"A penal law cannot be restrospective", Prabakaran said, and noted that none of those who had taken part in the Bersih 2.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur on July 9 had been charged to date. He also noted that the ISA was slated for repeal in March and that ISA detainees were to be released. “The charges (against the 30) should not be hanging over their heads. There is ample reason to pronounce a discharge amounting to an acquittal", Prabakaran submitted.

On September 19, police dropped charges against the 30, including six who were charged under the Emergency Ordinance, in view of the impending repeal of the ISA. They had been arrested while on their way to attend a PSM-organised forum titled Udahlah, Bersara (That's enough ... Retire, referring to the regime) in Penang. They were initially held on suspicion of “waging war against the Agong" (king).

The police detained six activists from the group, dubbed the "EO6", for 28 days under the EO over their "role" in the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally. After the EO6 were released, they were charged at the Butterworth sessions court on August 3 under the Societies Act and the Internal Security Act for allegedly possessing subversive documents.

Once the judge announced his decision, the courtroom erupted to cheers of Hidup Rakyat, Hidup Perjuangan' (Long live the people, long live the fight).

The 24 PSM accused were seen holding up a banner "Terima Kasih, Kuasa Rakyat Bebaskan EO6" (Thank you, people's power freed the EO6) as they proudly walked out of court.

Outside the courtroom, PSM secretary-general S. Arutchelvan said the decision was not surprising as the government had dropped other cases related to Bersih 2.0, especially after Prime Minister Najib announced the repeal of the ISA.

The only argument today, he said, was whether the discharge would include a full acquittal. “The result today is more of a face-saving exercise for the police who arrested our activists illegally”, Arutchelvan told reporters after judge Ikmal delivered his decision. “We had been accused of several things -- waging war against the (Agong), being a Bersih 2.0 organiser, colluding with external powers and attempting to revive communism”, Arutchelvan said.

“There were are also allegations that we owned weapons and that our supporters planned to bomb the police station... today it is proven that these are all lies.”

He urged the authorities to act against the police personnel responsible for abuse of power, including harassment of PSM female detainees while held in Kepala Batas in June. On August 17, the three women members of PSM had lodged a formal complaint with the police disciplinary board about “mistreatment, abuse of power and sexual harassment”.