Review of sedition case is based upon written representations, Wan Ji didn’t make any: AG

12 Jul 2019 / 20:46 H.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) will review each case under the Sedition Act which were still pending in the courts in May 2018 depending on their peculiar circumstances, says Attorney-General Tommy Thomas (pix).

He said the AGC will only act on written representations from an accused or their lawyer, but in Wan Ji Wan Hussin’s case, he (Wan Ji) did not make any representations to the AGC in relation to his sedition case.

“As for cases under the Sedition Act pending in the Courts in May 2018 (regardless at what stage), our policy is to review each case on an individual basis depending on its peculiar circumstances. We only act on written representations from an accused or his lawyer. This promotes transparency and accountability.

“The increased volume of hate speech, particularly online, relating to race, religion and royalty in our plural society means that freedoms of speech and expression are being abused.

“The challenge for the Chambers has been to balance the enhanced freedom of speech after the 14th General Election (GE14) with the widespread hate speech which hurt the feelings of our people. When prosecution has to occur, we will rely on the Penal Code, but where there are no alternatives under our laws, in appropriate cases we cannot rule out applying the Sedition Act until it is repealed,” he said in a statement today.

Explaining on the case of Wan Ji, who is an independent Muslim preacher, Thomas said he (Wan Ji) was charged on Sept 10, 2014, in the sessions court, Shah Alam, under Section 4(1) (c) of the Sedition Act, 1948, for making remarks that were deemed seditious against the Sultan of Selangor.

The seditious remarks were published by the accused on his Facebook account, wanji.attaaduddi, on Nov 5, 2012. The offence carries a maximum imprisonment of three years upon conviction.

He said the accused claimed trial, and on April 9, 2018, was found guilty and convicted by the sessions court and subsequently sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment.

“The accused filed an appeal against the conviction. On April 9, 2018, the Public Prosecutor cross-appealed on sentence.”

Both the appeal and cross-appeal were mentioned before the Shah Alam High Court on April 30, 2019.

Neither the accused nor his counsel appeared in court that day.

Subsequently, the High Court directed parties to file written submissions and fixed July 9, 2019, for the decision,” he said.

Thomas said on July 9, 2019, the High Court allowed the prosecution’ cross-appeal against the sentence and enhanced the accused’s imprisonment from nine months to one year.

“The stay of execution application orally made on behalf of the accused was dismissed by the High Court, which also directed that a formal application in writing be made.

“Thus, the accused began his sentence on July 9. The formal application to stay was filed yesterday, and the High Court granted it today.

“The Public Prosecutor did not object. Hence, the present position is that the accused is on bail pending the hearing of his appeal by the Court of Appeal,” he said.

Thomas said from this sequence of events, it would be clear that the cross-appeal by the prosecution on the sentence was made prior to the GE14.

“No written representations were ever made by the accused or his lawyer to me, and I was not personally aware of this matter until after the decisions of the High Court on July 9, 2019, became publicly known.

“This is hardly surprising because on any given working day, the Federal and 13 State governments are involved, literally, in hundreds of criminal and civil cases in all the courts of the land.

“It is therefore impossible for any one person to be personally acquainted with even a tiny fraction of these cases. Hence delegation and decentralisation of authority are essential.

“This Chambers is studying the options open to it with respect to Wan Ji’s appeal before the Court of Appeal, but having regard to his conviction by two Courts, the margin of discretion in my office is substantially limited,” he said.

Thomas stressed that Wan Ji’s case has once again brought to sharp focus the continued use by this Chambers of prosecution for offences under the Sedition Act, 1948, and the misinformation surrounding the subject.

“The facts are as follows. First, the Sedition Act is among the Acts of Parliament that the Pakatan Harapan manifesto states will be repealed.

“Secondly, the Cabinet has not informed the Chambers of any decision to repeal or amend it. Under our system of government, it is the Cabinet that decides on behalf of the Executive branch, to enact, repeal or amend laws for presentation to Parliament, with Chambers assisting in the drafting of new laws.

“Thirdly, the Cabinet has not ‘instructed’ this Chambers to refrain from relying on the Sedition Act. Such an instruction would not, in any event, be lawful because it would offend the discretionary power under the Constitution vested solely in the office of the Attorney-General to decide on prosecutorial matters on behalf of the State.

“Upon assuming office in June 2018, I decided, having regard to alternative laws in our statute books (including provisions in the Penal Code), to only turn to the Sedition Act as a measure of last resort.

“Because the Sedition Act is still a law, it cannot be totally disregarded. That can only occur if Parliament repeals it. Since GE14, however, not a single person has been charged under the Sedition Act,” the Attorney-General explained. — Bernama

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