Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SINGAPORE: Leading Rights Lawyer Faces Jail Term (IPS)

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 (IPS) - Singapore's embattled human rights lawyer and leading anti-death penalty campaigner, Ravi Madasamy, intends to defend his reputation ”all the way” to the highest courts after being released on bail for allegedly causing a disturbance at a mosque.

On Aug 11, a Singapore judge ordered Ravi to be examined by the Institute of Mental Health after police arrested him on charges of harassment and causing a public disturbance during a prayer session.

Ravi, 40, who was discharged from the hospital earlier this month, remains on bail facing a possible three-year prison sentence, if found guilty.

Ravi has strenuously denied the charges and dismissed prosecution suggestions about his mental health. He represented himself in court as no lawyer in Singapore was prepared to take up his case.

Only a small group of committed local rights activists have rallied to his defence. The country's Law Society, which took him to court for allegedly disrespecting a judge, leading to a one-year practicing suspension in 2007, has distanced itself from the case.

”I am saddened but I will continue my mission,” Ravi told IPS. ”The environment is increasingly tough and dangerous.”

Charles Hector, a prominent Malaysian human rights lawyer, described Ravi as ”a victim of state repression”.

”The Malaysian Bar is closely monitoring his plight,” Hector told IPS. ”He is a defender of human rights and we are very concerned. We are taking up his victimisation internationally.

”The Singapore authorities should immediately end the persecution and respect Ravi's right to free expression and advocacy to end mandatory death penalty.”

Ravi has led a virtually one-man international campaign to save death row prisoners facing execution by hanging, mostly for drug trafficking in Singapore.

He has also fought, in the courts and outside, to defend dissidents, persecuted opposition politicians, lawmakers and human rights activists.

As a result he has been vilified and severely criticised by Singapore's government-controlled mainstream media and often accused of being a publicity seeker.

”I face numerous other problems arising out of my activism,” Ravi told IPS.

”With all the happenings I came under tremendous pressure.

”Because of the mounting problems my pace has slackened but my resolve is the same. I will press on to enlighten Singaporeans on the horrors of the death penalty.

”People should know that mandatory death penalty [impelling judges to sentence people to death in capital convictions] is a step backwards into a barbaric era. We must campaign and people should want to end it.”

Ravi, who is also an author and manager of the anti-death penalty website first gained prominence in mid-2005 for trying to save death row inmate Shanmugam Murugesu, who was sentenced to death for possession of 1 kg of marijuana.

Murugesu, 38, a former military veteran and Singaporean civil servant, was arrested in August 2003 for carrying six packets of marijuana in his bags when returning home from Malaysia.

Under Singapore law, the death penalty is mandatory for possession of 500 gm of marijuana and 2 gm of heroin.

Before Murugesu's execution on May 13, Ravi and a few supporters organised a three-hour vigil at a hall in the Furama Hotel.

”It was the first time citizens had organised to speak against the arbitrary, biased and discriminatory death penalty law,” Ravi said. ”It was an eye opener for us all.”

In 2004, Singapore, with a population of 4.3 million, had the highest per capita rate of state executions in the world, according to Amnesty International.

From then on, Ravi represented other death row inmates in court. He also travelled the world speaking out against state repression and the mandatory death penalty in Singapore.

A colleague, requesting strict confidentiality, said police placed Ravi under strict surveillance.

”They followed him, took photographs and filed reports,” he told IPS. ”The relentless scrutiny caused Ravi tremendous personal and professional stress.”

Although on bail, Ravi has resumed practicing law until his trial date is set.

Last year, Singapore carried out two executions and sentenced two people to death, according to Amnesty.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Get Malaysia to vote for UN Resolution for global moratorium on the death penalty

On 18th December 2007, the United Nations General Assembly 'calling for a moratorium on executions to be established in all States that still maintain the death penalty'
passed a resolution

The resolution calling for “a moratorium on the death penalty”, was passed by a vote of 104 in favour to 54 against, with 29 abstentions. (See annex VI.) It called on all States that still allowed capital punishment to “progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed”. Those countries were also called on to provide the Secretary-General with information on their use of capital punishment and to respect international standards that safeguard the rights of condemned inmates. - see earlier posts (a) Is Pakatan Rakyat for the Abolition of Death Penalty in Malaysia (b) U.N. panel votes for death penalty moratorium (Star)

Again in 2008,

The U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee voted Thursday for the second year in a row to urge a global moratorium on the death penalty.

The United States sided with countries such as Iran, China and Syria in opposing the resolution.

The 105-48 vote marked a slight change from the 104-54 vote in the full General Assembly last December. About 30 nations abstained.

Supporters of the ban argue there's no conclusive evidence that the death penalty serves as a meaningful deterrent to crime and the risk of injustice is too high. Nations opposing the ban say the death penalty is effective in discouraging most serious crimes and remains legal under international law.

The vote in the human rights committee, though it includes all U.N. members, is not the final vote. Next month, the General Assembly will hold a final vote on the measure and the committee's vote is almost certain to be closely replicated there.

Though not legally binding, the voting does carry moral weight coming from the 192-nation world body that serves as a unique forum for debate and barometer of international opinion.

Amnesty International, which has been campaigning for the resolution, noted rising acceptance of a moratorium. In the 1990s, it was voted on twice in the General Assembly and failed.

On Thursday, the committee vote picked up one more nation than last year and six fewer opponents.

As of November, some 137 nations had abolished the death penalty in law or practice, compared with about 80 in 1988, according to Amnesty International figures.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has been encouraged by the trend in many areas of the world toward ultimately abolishing the death penalty, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said.

Last year there were at least 1,252 people put to death by 24 nations and 3,347 others sentenced to death in 51 countries, according to Amnesty International. - Washington Times, 20/11/2008 - UN vote shows growing support of death penalty ban

In December, the UN General Assembly will be voting on this resolution - and it is expected that the results will be the same.

In Malaysia, we can still campaign with 0ur government to vote in favour of this resolution which will still be calling for an immediate moratorium on executions...

Some of the interventions of MALAYSIA during the committee stage, as obtained from the website of 7th Space Interactive are as follows:-
[Note that there could have been other interventions from Malaysia...]
The representative of Malaysia also took time to respond to arguments by the text’s co-sponsors that the Assembly should be made to welcome a global trend towards abolition, arguing that States should not make assumptions based on perceived trends, and that they should not use such assumptions to decide how other countries should evolve their own legal systems. ...

Malaysia’s representative, after asking permission to propose an oral amendment, noted that the close results of Tuesday’s votes on the draft amendments had indicated that States were still divided on the issue and that the international community was no closer to consensus. The fact that a number of delegations had voted for the amendments, or had abstained from voting, indicated their discomfort with the resolution as a whole. Therefore, he proposed that references to requests for the Secretary-General to provide a report for consideration at the Assembly’s sixty-fifth session, as contained in operative paragraphs 2 and 3, be changed to “sixty-sixth session” so as to provide further time for countries to evolve their opinion on the issue. To insist on considering the question at the sixty-fifth session would perpetuate divisions.

Further, votes against the amendments of two days ago had seemed to reflect a bloc outlook and did not reflect a judgement on the merits of those amendments, which he believed would have enhanced the text. Those amendments had been defeated by sheer numbers. He invited countries to take those points into account and to support his proposed oral amendment.

The representative of Malaysia said he had been disappointed that the Committee’s important work on a range of different human rights questions had been distracted by a resolution on the issue of the death penalty on which there was no international consensus. There should not be any attempt by a country to impose their viewpoint on that issue onto other countries. While his country respected the decision by some to voluntarily abolish the death penalty and by other countries to apply a moratorium, it was concerned at attempts to offer the same respect to those countries that still maintained it.

He said he had been prepared to engage with the co-sponsors in an open spirit of dialogue and constructive engagement. In reality, that had not taken place. During the informal consultations, a number of delegations had expressed a desire for the text to be amended to strike a balance over the differing views. But, the co-sponsors had not circulated those amendments in a compilation draft, and it became clear that the co-sponsors had not wanted to negotiate the text. Thus, the Committee faced a process that was forced upon countries, and where changes made on the draft had not addressed the concerns of some countries. Those countries had provided clear, fair, non-hostile amendments reflecting the purposes and principles of the Charter and of international cooperation. Those amendments were positive in nature, given to enhance the text, so that there could be the widest possible support from all countries, regardless of where they stood, whether they were co-sponsors or not.

He said the co-sponsors have painted those amendments as undermining the spirit of the resolution, when those amendments would have brought balance to this text. The international community, as a whole, was not ready for the issue; and he was disappointed that even deferring this question to a later stage -- to allow more time for countries to evolve their views on this question -- had been greeted with negativity. For his country, the death penalty was a criminal justice issue, applied only for the most serious of crimes and only through a judicial process that included the right to appeal to courts of a higher jurisdiction and the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Other countries should not make assumptions based on perceived trends to decide how they wish other countries to evolve in their own legal systems. In that regard, he opposed the resolution.

What does Malaysia really want to do? The attempt to delay matters by one year seems to indicate that Malaysia maybe moving towards abolition of the death penalty in time. They want more time " evolve their opinion on the issue...", and by that I hope that he was talking about evolution of thought in favour of abolition.

Malaysia should at the very least adhere to the 2007 General Assembly Resolutions that require an immediate moratorium of executions. At the very least, stop all executions now, and tell us Malaysians and the whole world that we have not executed and will not execute any person until the 2010 session of the UN which will again re-visit the resolution on death penalty.

Our neighbour Thailand, also another nation like Malaysia that opposed the 2007 Resolution, did also recently declare at the committee stage that they have not executed any person since 2003...

The representative of Thailand said that it was the sovereign right of States to come to a decision on the use of the death penalty, and all States should show respect for the decisions of others. The Thai public viewed capital punishment as an effective deterrent and its judicial system allowed for petitions to be made up to the level of the Supreme Court, as well as commutations of sentences. In Thailand, the death penalty was reserved for only the most serious crimes and under certain conditions. Indeed, since 2003, no execution had been carried out by the Government.- from the website of 7th Space Interactive
It would be good if Malaysia also can declare that it will abide by the 2007 General Assembly Resolution, and will not execute anyone in Malaysia for the time being as an act of respect to the spirit of democracy.

So let us all campaign for Malaysia to vote in favour of that anti-death penalty motion that will be tabled and voted on at the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 2008. After all, the resolution only calls for a moratorium at this stage - not for an abolition of the death penalty yet.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bar: uphold the rights of all concerned citizens to assemble peaceably to express their opinions

Press Release

Press Statement In Response To The Arrests Of Nine Individuals During An Assembly On 23 November 2008

On 23 November 2008, two assemblies were held. One, against the I.S.A. The other, to support it. The assembly supporting the I.S.A. apparently included a march from Wisma Sejarah to the Tun Razak police station.

Both assemblies were a manifestation of the right of citizens to make known their views in a peaceful manner. Both the assemblies represent the right to freedom of assembly that is enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Both groups of people legitimately exercised these rights.

However, only one group was targeted for arrests, namely the anti-I.S.A. group. We are alarmed to note that nine people from the group were arrested.

Such heavy-handedness against ordinary citizens expressing their rights to free speech and assembly goes against respected democratic norms. Furthermore, the use of police force against only one group, namely the one that was against the I.S.A., is selective persecution.

The apparent clampdown on peaceful assemblies is a worrying trend particularly when it is the avowed position of the authorities that they respect human rights.

The intimidation of ordinary citizens in this manner must cease. We call upon the authorities to even-handedly protect and uphold the rights of all concerned citizens to assemble peaceably to express their opinions.

Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan


Malaysian Bar

24 November 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Another 'shoot to kill' incident reported in the media:-

A man believe to be the member of a gun-running syndicate was shot dead after he rammed into a police vehicle in Taman Bukit Belimbing in Balakong near here on Sunday night.

The 48-year-old was driving a Kia Optima when a team of policemen spotted him about 1km away from the scene of the shootout in the 7.30pm incident.

Selangor CID chief Senior Asst Comm II Hasnan Hassan said the man refused to heed policemen’s instructions to stop, and a high speed chase ensued.

He said the man rammed into the police vehicle and then fired a shot, forcing police to return fire.

Police fired eight shots, four of which hit the suspect, before the suspect’s car crashed into a tree. He died on the spot.

“Police seized a .38 Smith and Wesson from the car,” SAC II Hasnan said, adding that initial investigation indicated that the man might have been active in a gun-running syndicate, is on the wanted list and has priors in theft and robbery.

Police are looking for more syndicate members who they said are responsible for distributing firearms in the Klang Valley. - Star, 10/11/2008, Gun-runner killed in police shootout

Monday, November 10, 2008

Respect the Right to Peaceful Assembly - Malaysian Bar Press Release

Malaysian Bar's Press Release: Respect the Right to Peaceful Assembly

Monday, 10 November 2008 07:39pm

Ragunath KesavanFreedom of assembly and freedom of expression were again dealt a severe blow yesterday with the arrests of 23 citizens – including journalists and activists, a Member of Parliament, State Assemblypersons and a City Councillor – who were participants in a peaceful gathering to commemorate the first anniversary of last year's BERSIH rally.

The Bar Council is alarmed at the disproportionate and heavy-handed approach adopted by the police, who purportedly began dispersing people as early as an hour before the start of the vigil. Needless physical force was allegedly used during the arrests, causing injuries to a number of participants. Such unprovoked intimidation and oppression is unjustifiable as the group was reportedly calm, did not pose any threat to public order and was merely exercising its democratic rights.

While the Bar Council disagrees with the laws curtailing the right to assemble and express dissent, we are concerned that the authorities seem to use these laws selectively to disperse and arrest demonstrators. Several demonstrations against the Pakatan Rakyat government's policies in Penang and Selangor have proceeded without much harassment nor arrests by the police.

This gives rise to the perception that police actions are not based on any objective criteria relating to preservation of public order. Such subjectivity breeds the notion that the authorities act in a biased, or even arbitrary, manner.

We call on the police to protect the rights of speech, expression and assembly of all those who legitimately engage in expressing dissent, fairly and without bias.

Ragunath Kesavan
Malaysian Bar

10 November 2008

Saturday, November 08, 2008

271,375 Illegal Immigrants Detained Since 2001

271,375 Illegal Immigrants Detained Since 2001

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 6 (Bernama) -- A total of 271,375 illegal immigrants were detained through enforcement by the Immigration Department, Rela and the police between 2001 and last year, the Dewan Rakyat was told Thursday.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said the government estimated that there were about 1 million illegal immigrants in the country but the situation was under control, thanks to concerted and continuous enforcement by the three agencies.

It cost RM205 to deport each illegal immigrant by sea, he said in reply to Amran Ab Ghani (PKR-Tanah Merah).

Deportation by air ranged from RM1,200 to RM3,600 per immigrant, depending on the country of origin.

Syed Hamid also said that about two per cent of the crimes in the country were committed by illegal immigrants.


Monday, November 03, 2008

LDP, another BN party, calls for the review of the ISA

Yet another BN party calls for the review of the ISA - and this is good..

Better if they call for the repeal of the ISA and other Detention Without Trial laws as well..
SANDAKAN, Nov 2 (Bernama) -- The Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) 19th annual congress today passed a resolution calling on the government to review the Internal Security Act (ISA) and New Economic Policy (NEP).

More than 1,000 party delegates at the congress unanimously passed the resolution before the one-day congress was closed by LDP president Datuk Liew Vui Keong.

Liew, who is also Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister, said the LDP strongly urged the government to review the ISA to determine if it was still relevant and if yes, to clearly define the scope of the Act within which it was applicable...

....He said the LDP top leadership would study the resolution and submit it to the Barisan Nasional top leadership and government....

...Earlier when opening the congress, Liew said the ISA was no longer relevant to the present situation in the country as Malaysia no longer faced any communist insurgency as it did before in the 1960's.

"The situation in the country has since changed. While we cannot deny the fact that global terrorism is threatening us and our national security, we must have a comprehensive policy to deal with terrorists as distinct from legitimate political opponents and dissidents," he said. -, 2/11/2008, LDP Congress Calls For Review Of ISA, NEP