Magistrate wrong to order student to recite Rukun Negara, say lawyers

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PETALING JAYA: A magistrate who ordered a student to recite the Rukun Negara in open court for insulting the Sultan of Perak has performed an “extra judicial function”, lawyers said.

They said no judicial officer had the power to compel accused persons to do such a thing unless the law provided for it.

The lawyers feared there might be overzealous magistrates or Sessions Court judges who, in future, could order accused persons to recite religious verses or sing patriotic songs as part of sentencing.

They wanted the Chief Judge of Malaya Ahmad Maarop to put a stop to this unhealthy development by issuing a clear directive to his subordinates.

Lawyer Baljit Sidhu said judges have inherent powers to advise accused persons who pleaded guilty to criminal offences to conduct themselves well in society but the incident in Ipoh last week was “extraordinary”.

“There is no provision in law to compel an accused to recite the Rukun Negara apart from what is provided under any criminal law,” he said.

Baljit said a line must be drawn or else other judges might resort to ordering accused to recite religious verses or sing patriotic songs.

He said this in response to magistrate Siti Hafiza Jaafar who ordered a 19-year-old student last Friday to read the Rukun Negara by emphasising the fifth principle, which is on good behaviour and morality.

“Do you understand the meaning of tatasusila (morality)? Morality forms our actions, thus we need to uphold our morality. Do not condemn or issue arrogant comments and insult as you wish.

“The offence (of insulting the sultan) can bring you imprisonment. On seeing that you are still in school but at the same time, to serve as a lesson to you and the people out there, a sound punishment must be imposed,” said Siti Hafiza before passing the sentence.

The accused, who will be sitting for the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (STPM) examination, next month was fined RM5,000 for improper use of network facilities by transmitting offensive comments through the Twitter application on the sultan with an intention to annoy others.

The offence was committed at Bandar Baru Medan Ipoh on Oct 13.

The charge was made under Section 233(1)(A) of the Communications and Multimedia Act which provided a maximum fine of RM50,000, or imprisonment for up to a year, or both.

Lawyer M Visvanathan said ordering an accused to read or sing was an additional sentence to humiliate or embarrass the person in the courtroom.

“Judges must impose sentences in accordance with the law but the magistrate in this case has performed an extra judicial function,” he said.

Visvanathan said there was no necessity to call for a revision to correct the magistrate’s decision but (CJ of Malaya) Ahmad could issue clear directives to prevent a repeat of such an incident.