Siti Kasim was discharging her duties as a lawyer, says Bar

George-Varughese-siti-kasimPETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar says Siti Kasim was only discharging her professional duties as a lawyer at a transgender event last year which was raided by officers from the Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi).

Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said Siti Kasim had been present at the function in her capacity as an advocate and solicitor for the event’s organisers and participants.

“She identified herself as a lawyer and inquired about the basis for the raid.

“As such, she was discharging her professional duties as a lawyer at the time that the alleged offence was said to have been committed,” he said in a statement today.

On June 23, Siti Kasim claimed trial to a charge of preventing Islamic religious enforcement officer Siti Nor Jihan Saleh @ Md Ghazali from discharging her duties on April 3, 2016, at the Renaissance Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

She was charged under Section 186 of the Penal Code, which carries a jail term of not more than two years or a maximum fine of RM10,000 or both, upon conviction.

This was after a video of her shouting at Jawi officers, asking if they had a warrant to raid the closed-door event, went viral on social media last year.

Varughese said the independence of an advocate and solicitor to act for a client “without fear or favour” was fundamental to the administration of justice.

“A lawyer must at all times be allowed to advance a client’s rights without obstruction or impediment, or fear of prosecution for carrying out his or her duties as an officer of the court.

“Any unwarranted interference with the discharge of such duties is a serious violation of the independence of the legal profession and an affront to the administration of justice.”

He said the charge against Siti Kasim was “in clear contravention” of Principle 16 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

This provides that “governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; … and shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics”.

He also called on the authorities to respect and uphold the rule of law, which includes the right of access to legal counsel who are free to perform their vital role without undue harassment or intimidation.