Selasa, 9 September 2014

Charging Professor Azmi Sharom under the Sedition Act is a cowardly attack on academic freedom and should be condemned in the strongest possible terms

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 3rd of September 2014

Yesterday, Professor Azmi Sharom, law professor at the University of Malaya was formally charged under Section 4(1)(b) and (c) of the Sedition Act 1948 for his comments in a Malay Mail online news article on the 14th of August, 2014. This is the section of the article in which he was quoted:[1]
Citing the Perak case, law lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Sharom cautioned against such action outside the state assembly, and insisted the lawmakers wait until next sitting to indicate their lack of confidence.
“You don’t want a repeat of that, where a secret meeting took place,” the University of Malaya lecturer said, referring to the Perak crisis.
“I think what happened in Perak was legally wrong. The best thing to do is do it as legally and transparently as possible.”
Azmi said the open spectacle of a no-confidence motion would leave Khalid no choice but to resign from his post and possibly call for the dissolution of the state assembly,
“A vote by the house of representative should be done in the house of representative,” said Azmi.
(His quotes are in bold italics)

Professor Azmi was merely stating his academic opinion on what had transpired in Perak in 2009 which led to the fall of the then Pakatan Raykat state government. Many other stronger statements have been made by other academics, lawyers and former judges on the Perak episode and the High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court decisions which followed.

For example, distinguished constitutional scholar, Professor Andrew Harding, wrote the following:

But the decision that came down from the Federal Court on the contrary endorses the idea that the fate of the people’s Government can be settled behind the scenes according to who-knows-what secret communications and extraneous considerations which would prevent the voter (or even, in this case, the MB himself) from understanding what had happened and why, and what attitude he or she should take towards the events and the standing of the Government)[2]

Emeritus Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi wrote the following:

The Judiciary has not come out of the Perak crisis well. When the case first reached the courts, a Judicial Commissioner gave judgements that deft understanding.[3]

Constitutional Professor Kevin YL Tan wrote the following:

In my comment “The Perak Crisis: Keep Focused on the Real Issues”, I could not help but note the willingness with which the Court of Appeal Judges were prepared to overturn a trial judge’s findings of fact. The recounting of acts went on for pages on end, and lamentably, the Federal Court did the same thing… The Federal Court castigated the High Court Judge for being perverse in refusing to believe the evidence of the State Legal Adviser and the documentary evidence before him even though they were not present at the trial.[4]

Former Court of Appeal judge, NH Chan, wrote the following:

The unconstitutional appointment of Zambry to the post makes him an imposter. This is a blatant unconstitutional exercise of a non-existent executive power by a pretentious constitutional monarch. Are we back to the days of the pretensions of King Charles I?[5]

Lawyer, Amer Hamzah Arshad, wrote the following:

The difference in treatment between Zambry’s and Nizar’s applications are like heaven and hell. The delay on the part of the Court of Appeal to hear Nizar’s setting aside application, deliberate or otherwise, also provokes one to wonder whether there were hidden hands hell-bent on preventing Nizar from continuing to perform his duties as MB despite the High Court decision which was made a day earlier?[6]

Lawyer, Art Harun, wrote the following:

In my humble view, and I say this with the greatest of respect to HRH the Sultan of Perak, the crisis in Perak was not caused by a lack of power. It was driven by a departure from conventions in the exercise of HRH’s discretion.[7]
(All of the quotes above are taken from “Perak: A State of Crisis, Loyarburok Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2010”)

The quotes above illustrate the fact that lawyers, judges and former judges, and law professors can and will have very strong opinions on a constitutional issue that is as controversial as the events which transpired in Perak in February 2009 and the associated legal cases which occurred in its aftermath. The decisions made to allow the change in government in Perak were heavily criticized as were the basis of the judgements of the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court.

To charge Professor Azmi for expressing his academic opinion on the Perak issue in relation to the current political crisis in Selangor is mind boggling and a direct assault on academic freedom. If academics in Malaysia were to be targeted for expressing their academic opinions on controversial issues in the country, it would be akin to putting a muzzle on academia. This is a cowardly act and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. I call on all others who value academic freedom, in and outside Malaysia, to do the same.

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