(Malaysiakini) Twenty-one people, including federal and state lawmakers, were acquitted and discharged by a sessions court today for illegal assembly and not abiding by a police officer's order.
The prosecution failed to prove a prima facie case against the accused and police failed to show the roles played by the participants in the candlelight vigil in support of Bersih in 2008, the court in Petaling Jaya ruled.
"There is a gap in the prosecution's case following the inconsistent testimony of the witnesses (from the police).
"The witnesses were inconsistent in stating the time for the crowd to disperse as some were saying 9.45pm and others 10pm and 11pm. This affects to their credibility and also the credibility of the order isued by the police to disperse.
"Following this, there is no need to call the accused to enter their defence. They are acquitted and discharged on all charges," sessions judge Hayatul Akmal ruled.
She also said the initial gathering in front of the Petaling Jaya Municipal Council building lawn was considered a spontaneous assembly as there was no proper organisation.
Hayatul also noted the participants were wearing various coloured T-shirts with various messages, including anti-ISA messages and hence she could not rule who the organisers were.
“As such, the participants need not have a permit within the definition of the Police Act and hence it cannot be considered an illegal gathering,” Hayatul added in her judgment.
Those charged included Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, Selangor exco member Ronnie Liu, Kampong Tunku assemblyperson Lau Weng San and MBPJ councillor Tiew Way Keng, Catholic priest Paulino Francesco Miranda and lawyer S Ashok Kandiah.
The others were K Raman, G Ramish, Augustine Gan Liam Tee, Andrew Ng Yew Han, Lim Cheng Inn, Ooi Suan Huah, Ambrose Poh Teik Huat, Johny Andu @ Abu Bakar Adnan, K Thengaran, Ong Boon Keong, Mohd Fasya Mohd Tajudin, Goh Jin Kiat, Henry Hor @ Henry James Hor, Mohd Khairul Anuar Mohd Jamil and Goh Chien Yee.
All of them are between 29 and 66 years, with the majority hailing from the Klang Valley and the others from Alor Setar, George Town and Tampin.
They were charged under dubious circumstances in 2009, two days before Chinese New Year and two months after the November 2008 candlelight vigil on the occasion of the first anniversary of electoral reform movement Bersih.
Hayatul also ruled that despite Liu being arrested as he was speaking at the assembly, there was no evidence before the court to corroborate testimony from prosecution witnesses that Liu was part of the assembly.
Fine and/or jail if convicted
They were charged with illegal assembly and failing to adhere to orders to disperse from the Petaling Jaya City Council field off Jalan Yong Shook Lin, given by police officer Supt Mohammad Shukor Sulong.
The 21 were accused of committing the offences during an anti-ISA vigil at the field from 9pm to 10.10pm on Nov 9, 2008.
They were charged under Section 27 of the Police Act for both the offences, for which each of them would be fined between RM2,000 and RM10,000 and/or a jail term of not more than a year on each charge if convicted.
Section 27 of the Police Act has been repealed and has since been replaced with the Peaceful Assembly Act.
Commenting on the decision, lawyer Gobind Singh Deo who represented some of the accused, said it had taken close to four years to arrive at the verdict.
"A lot has changed since Section 27 of the Police Act was repealed. The sessions judge has given sound reasoning to acquit all the accused and the attorney-general should study the reasons.
"We also hope that the prosecution will not appeal the decision," Gobind said.
DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang said the decision showed that the 21 citizens should not have been charged in the first place.
"I reiterate that the AG should not appeal this decision," Lim said.
Pua described the court's decision as a victory for freedom of assembly as it showed how repressive the laws were prior to the Peaceful Assembly Act.
Liu thanked the lawyers and the judge for the decision.