Malaysia: Defense Lawyer Sentenced to 3 Months in Jail


Urgent Appeal Case: UA981216
ISSUES: Freedom of expression,

Zainur Zakaria, a lawyer defending former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Anwar Ibrahim against criminal charges, was sentenced to three months jail for contempt of court on November 30, 1998. Zainur Zakaria was sentenced after refusing to apologize for submitting an affidavit alleging that prosecutors tried to fabricate evidence against Mr. Anwar. Mr Raja Aziz Addruse, chief counsel for Anwar Ibrahim, asked the presiding judge, Judge Augustine Paul, for at least one day to prepare his defense of Zainur Zakaria, but was permitted only 15 minutes before the judge passed sentence. On December 4, the Malaysian Court of Appeal suspended the sentence pending an appeal, the date for which has not been set.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION: Zainur Zakaria’s sentence is the latest in a series of actions that have impeded Mr. Anwar Ibrahim’s defense team from mounting a vigorous defense. Mr. Anwar, who was dismissed in September 1998 from his position as Deputy Prime Minister by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, faces charges of sodomy (which is illegal in Malaysia) and abusing his official position in order to interfere with criminal investigations.

Numerous concerns attend this prosecution. First, many observers believe that the charges form part of a politically motivated campaign against Mr. Anwar, a chief rival of the Prime Minister. Second, the process has been characterized by official intimidation and violence against Mr. Anwar and other witnesses. Shortly after his arrest on September 20, 1998, Mr. Anwar suffered a beating that left him with severe bruising on his face and neck. Witnesses who are alleged to have committed acts of sodomy with Mr. Anwar have recanted their confessions, which they allege were the result of torture and coercion by police interrogators. Lastly, Malaysian authorities have tried to thwart Anwar’s attorneys and outside observers. Initially, police restricted the defense lawyers’ access to Anwar after he was arrested.

At the opening of the trial on November 2, 1998, the court refused to grant international human rights advocates observer status, claiming that doing so would interfere in the judicial system. On December 2, 1998, after the prosecution complained of a missing document, the offices of Mr. Anwar’s lawyers were raided by police despite the fact that the prosecution had not accused the defense of possessing the document. The conviction of Zainur Zakaria for contempt of court is another disturbing link in this chain of events.

The affidavit prepared by Zainur Zakaria stems directly from the defense strategy at Mr. Anwar’s trial. Mr. Anwar’s defense team collected evidence that led it to believe that two of the prosecutors had attempted to elicit

fabricated evidence from one of Mr. Anwar’s colleagues, Dato Nallakaruppan. Nallakaruppan is currently accused of the possession of 125 bullets. He has been charged under section 57 of the Internal Security Act 1960-a crime punishable by death. Usually such an offense would result in charges under the Arms Act 1960-offenses that are punishable by imprisonment only.

The prosecutors in question allegedly offered to alter the charges if Nallakaruppan gave information that could form the basis of charges against Anwar Ibrahim. In the context of Nallakaruppan’s defense, his lawyer, Manjeet Singh Dhillon, wrote a letter to the Attorney General complaining of this conduct.

On the basis of this letter and a supporting affidavit from Mr. Anwar, Zainur Zakaria filed a notice of motion on Mr. Anwar’s behalf requesting the removal of the two prosecutors from this case. Judge Augustine Paul refused to consider the merits of the allegations contained in the notice of motion. Instead, the judge ruled that the motion was frivolous and amounted to an interference with the course of justice. He required Zainur Zakaria to state publicly that the application was baseless and an abuse of process. When Zainur Zakaria refused to do so he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for contempt.

Principle 13 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers requires lawyers to take all relevant legal action to protect the interests of their client in every appropriate way. Given the concern of Mr. Anwar’s lawyers about possible prosecutorial involvement in the fabrication of evidence against their client, the Lawyers Committee believes that it was entirely proper for Zainur Zakaria to seek to present such evidence to the court. The Lawyers Committee is seriously concerned by Judge Paul’s refusal to consider Zainur Zakaria’s application without hearing its merits and by his assertion that Zainur Zakaria was abusing the legal process by bringing such a motion. The Lawyers Committee’s concern is compounded by the Judge’s refusal to grant Zainur Zakaria’s lawyer adequate time to prepare a defense.

The circumstances of Zainur Zakaria’s conviction for contempt of court causes great concern regarding the operation of the rule of law in Malaysia, the independence of the Malaysian judiciary (see Lawyer to Lawyer Network Appeal, September 1998), the right to enjoy a fair trial, and the ability of Malaysian advocates to present the strongest possible case in defense of their clients.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please write letters to the Malaysian authority expressing concern with Judge Augustine Paul’s summary conviction of Zainur Zakaria and calling for the dismissal of his conviction for contempt. Please urge the Malaysian authorities to abide by Principle 13 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers so that Malaysian lawyers may be free to prepare the best defense possible for their clients.

Appeals to:

YAB Tan Sri Mohtar bin Abdullah Attorney General of Malaysia Peguam Negara Bangunan Bank Rakyat Jalan Tangsi Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA

Copies to:

send copies to diplomatic representative of Malaysia accredited to your country.

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA981216
Countries : Malaysia,
Issues : Freedom of expression,