By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
The protracted case of the 13 protesters, who were charged for being involved in an illegal assembly in front of Istana Bukit Chandan, Kuala Kangsar on Friday, February 6, 2009, came to an abrupt end on Friday, September 13 when they were handed a 2-year prison sentence plus a fine of RM5000 each.
The accused were originally charged under Section 145 of the Penal Code which carries a jail term of not exceeding two years or a fine or both upon conviction. They were also charged under Section 27 (4) of the Police Act 1967 and punishable under Section 27 (8) of the same Act.
However, after a lengthy court trial in Kuala Kangsar beginning on August 8, 2009, till October 13, 2010, the 13 were found not guilty of committing a crime under Police Act 1967 and were freed. The prosecution could not prove a prima facie case against the accused. Judgment was passed by the Session Court judge on April 4, 2011. But the same judge ruled that the prosecution had a valid case against the accused under Section 145 of the Penal Code and called upon them to make their defence.
That marked the beginning of another lengthy deliberation in the same court of law that eventuated in the surprise judgment passed on Friday, September 13. The spectre of “Friday the 13th” an American horror movie franchise has come to haunt the unlucky 13 and their legal team led by Ipoh-based lawyer Augustine Anthony and his co-counsel, Aminuddin Zulkipli. The sad part was the session court judge’s decision not to allow a stay of execution pending an appeal.
The 13 accused were hastily moved to Tapah prison where they were incarcerated as prisoners dressed in the signature yellow overalls reserved for hardcore criminals. How these seemingly innocent people, all of whom were first-time offenders, were incarcerated, was beyond comprehension. Was any element of compassion shown? Sadly, there was none. One of the accused is a cancer sufferer while another is a housewife.
They had, undoubtedly, committed an offence of being a party to an unlawful assembly during the swearing-in of a new Menteri Besar at the Istana on the fateful day. But in the ensuing mayhem anything could have happened. This was confirmed by both defence and prosecution witnesses during the initial trial. Even police officers, who were called to the witness stand, could not really say what took place on that day. The situation on the ground was so fuzzy and, coupled with the Federal Reserve Unit troopers firing tear gas at the crowd; no one could really ascertain what did or did not take place.
Most of the incidents were based on conjectures resulting in the charge under Section 27 (4) of the Police Act 1967 being summarily dismissed. But, like a court martial proceeding, of which I had been a party, the accused would normally be trapped with an alternative charge should he escape the primary charge. There are many ways to skin a cat.
The ruling by Session Court Judge Norsalha Hamzah on Friday, September 13 was first reported by bloggers and online news portals. The news spread like wildfire and soon many were calling news agencies for updates. Ipoh Echo was no exception. I called Augustine to get the latest. Since it was a weekend he could not do much to resolve the problem.
On Tuesday, September 17 Augustine and Aminuddin successfully filed their case with a certificate of urgency with the Taiping High Court. Justice Datuk Ahmad Nasfy Yassin arbitrated on Thursday, September 19 allowing a stay of execution under Section 311 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Bail amount of RM3000 to RM4000 by the session court was maintained. The RM5000 fine imposed by the lower court is to be paid in six instalments, upstaging the session court’s ruling that the fine be paid in full.
“The liberty of the 13 accused is paramount and in view of the foregoing, a stay of execution should be granted notwithstanding the circumstances,” said Ahmad Nasfy Yassin.
Some sensibility has finally prevailed and it takes the good judge to make it happen.