SHAH ALAM: Retired judge Gopal Sri Ram, whose three-man bench was severely criticised in 1998 for sending current Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to jail for sedition, today revealed why a custodial sentence was imposed.
Sri Ram, who led the Court of Appeal bench, said they were inspired by a passage in a 1982 judgment by Azmi Kamaruddin that in future, MPs who committed sedition should not get away with a fine.
“It is not me who sent him (Lim) to jail, but the Court of Appeal bench,” said Sri Ram in response to a question from lawyer Jeyaseelen Anthony.
Sri Ram, who retired as Federal Cout judge in 2000, was invited to the inaugural lecture of the Selangor Bar where he delivered a talk titled: “Challenging The Constitutionality of Pre-Merdeka Law”.
The lawyer, who has also authored a book on Malaysian sedition law, asked why he substituted the fine with an 18-month jail term.
Other members of the panel were Siti Norma Yaakob and Dennis Ong Jiew Fook.
Sri Ram said Azmi, who was then a Federal Court judge, asked him why the panel had sent Lim, the then Kota Melaka MP, to jail instead of acquitting him.
“I replied that it was him who had asked that politicians be jailed for such an offence,” said Sri Ram, whose response drew laughter from the floor.
In 1982 Mark Koding, the then Kinabalu MP from Sabah, was found guilty of sedition for calling for the closure of Tamil and Chinese schools in the Dewan Rakyat, but Azmi only gave the accused a bound over bond for good behaviour for two years.
In his judgment, Azmi, who has since passed away, said: “However, this sentence should not form a precedent for future cases involving MPs who are found guilty of similar offences.”
In 1995, Lim was sentenced by the Malacca High Court for maliciously printing false news under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and under the Sedition Act 1948.
He was found guilty of spreading allegations that the then Melaka chief minister Rahim Tamby Chik had raped an underaged girl.
His original sentence was just a fine of maximum RM5,000 for the sedition charge and a RM10,000 fine for the “false news” charge, but no jail term.
In 2000, the Federal Court bench consisting Chief Justice Eusoff Chin, Wan Adnan Wan Ismail and Zakaria Yatim affirmed the decision by the Court of Appeal in Lim’s case.
Sri Ram also said the Sedition Act may be a good law, but was not enforceable as the legislation was not passed by the Malaysia parliament that was only established in 1959.
“The law is also unconstitutional as it cannot impose unreasonable restriction on freedom of speech which is a right under the Malaysian Constitution,” he added.
The law, which was introduced in 1948 by the British, was primarily intended to fight the communist insurgency, but was amended in 1971 after the May 13, 1969 racial riots.
In his lecture, Sri Ram said the court, when faced with a pre-Merdeka law that deprived guaranteed rights, should modify it to bring it in line with the constitution.
He said if the law could not be brought to accord with the constitution for violating the doctrine of separation of powers, then the court had no choice but to strike it down.
“In carrying out these exercises, the court is not performing a legislative function, but a constitutional duty,” he added.