The Continuing Saga of the Unlucky 13

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By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The prosecution’s argument did not hold. The defence shot it down at the outset. The inconsistencies and inaccuracies were simply too glaring…

Thirteen PAS supporters who were tried for unlawful assembly received their court ruling on Friday, April 22, with mixed feelings.

The 13, including a woman, were collectively charged under Section 145 of the Penal Code for participating in an illegal assembly and an alternative charge of disobeying police orders to disperse under Section 27(4) of the Police Act 1967.

The judgment by Sessions Court Judge Puan Norsalha Dato’ Hamzah was read to the accused by Judge Amran Jantan, in her absence. They were ordered to enter their defence for being participants of an unlawful assembly under Section 145 of the Penal Code.  However, all 13 were acquitted of the more serious charge under Section 27 (4) of the Police Act 1967, as the prosecution failed to prove a prima facie case against them.

The case, which had dragged for almost two years, witnessed some very emotional moments involving the protagonists, their defence team and the Police. Moments which epitomised the simmering conflict between the rakyat and the authorities.

It all started on Friday, February 6, 2009 during the swearing-in of Dato’ Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir as the new Menteri Besar replacing Dato’ Seri Ir Nizar Jamaluddin. The ceremony was held at Istana Iskandariah in Kuala Kangsar. Emotions were riding high following the ousting of Pakatan Rakyat from the seat of the government.

Being a Friday, the Ubadiah Mosque, next to the istana, was filled with the faithful who had gathered to perform their obligatory Friday prayers. The convergence of these two events was coincidental. The resulting ruckus prompted the Police to “overreact”. Thirteen people were arrested and duly charged.

It was definitely not lawyer Augustine Anthony’s day. On the morning of that day he was informed that the oath-taking ceremony for Ipoh City Council councillors, which he was to be one, had been called off. He was running a high fever and had just completed a battery of tests at a government clinic to ascertain his illness.

Later in the afternoon a call came through his cell phone informing him that scores of people were arrested in Kuala Kangsar. The caller sought his assistance to negotiate their release from the Kuala Kangsar police station. As he was in no position to make the journey on his own, Augustine was driven to Kuala Kangsar, post haste.

“There was complete chaos. Police roadblocks were everywhere. FRU trucks were going up and down and there I was, parked right in front of the police station,” he riposted.

Augustine feared that those arrested would be beaten up. However, all 13 were released on bail without any harm. That was the beginning of their two-year ordeal.

The case was mentioned at the Kuala Kangsar Sessions Court in March 2009 and the first hearing was in April. It went on till late 2010 when both prosecution and defence were finally told to make their submissions. “I’d prefer an oral submission but this was not possible as the presiding judge, Puan Norsalha, was transferred to Sungai Petani,” Augustine recalled.

Thirty nine prosecution witnesses, mostly police officers, gave evidence. An assortment of items such as rocks, stones, broken glasses, sticks and broken helmets, complemented by hundreds of still photographs and five video clips, were produced by the prosecution to prove that the accused not only assembled unlawfully but rioted as well.

The prosecution’s arguments did not hold. The defence shot them down at the outset. The inconsistencies and inaccuracies were simply too glaring. Augustine had a field day exposing them during cross-examinations. This was why the charge under Section 27 (4) was thrown out.

The defence team consisting of Hj Aminuddin Zulkifli, Yusnita Yusoff, Mohd Zamberi and Bah Tony offered their services pro bono pursuant to Section 42 of the Legal Profession Act 1976. “Under such circumstances money is no longer a criterion,” Augustine remarked.

Their commitment, however, was rewarded by their clients’ kindness, which was totally unexpected.

“They prayed for our well-being. One of the wives even prepared sambal ikan bilis when we mentioned it casually during lunchtime.” Seeing their lead counsel dozing off in between breaks during one appearance, they bought him a box of ginseng-laced coffee mixture to keep him awake. “I was humbled.”

In spite of it being seen as a Malay problem, the reaction of other races was equally heart-rending. “I had dinner in a Chinese restaurant once and was pleasantly surprised when told that my bill was settled by a stranger who had read about me in a Chinese daily,” Augustine recapped.

The end is not yet over for the thirteen. Their case will be heard at the same Kuala Kangsar court on Monday, May 30. All had chosen to fight. “We’ll be there for them,” said the Ipoh-based lawyer.

The continuing saga of the unlucky thirteen will keep Augustine and his team busy for the rest of the year. Circumstances have brought people of diverse backgrounds together for a common aim – the quest for justice in a civil society.