KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 ― The Sessions Court today sentenced activist Haris Ibrahim to eight months’ jail after finding him guilty of sedition over a speech he made three years ago where he urged for a change of power in Putrajaya.
Before sentencing, Sessions Court judge Shamsudin Abdullah said he had considered the need for the punishment to serve as a lesson to both Haris and the public.
“The court takes into account public interest so that security will not be threatened and will not cause public distress. The accused is sentenced to eight months’ jail starting from this day,” he said.
But the judge also allowed a stay of the execution of the sentence pending an appeal by Haris’ lawyers to the High Court, and fixed bail at RM10,000, an increase of RM5,000 from the current sum.
Haris was charged under Section 4(1)(b) of the Sedition Act, which is punishable with a maximum fine of RM5,000 and a maximum three-year jail term.
In his decision earlier, Shamsudin said he found that Haris's defence in relation to his remarks made on May 13, 2013 amounted to a “mere denial”.
“The court is also satisfied that the statement as a whole clearly shows the accused's dissatisfaction and anger with the ruling government,” the judge said, adding that the accused had failed to raise reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s case.
“The court finds the accused guilty and convicts him,” he said.
Haris's lawyer Gobind Singh urged the judge to only impose a fine on his client, noting that this was his first sedition offence and that he did not have any prior convictions for any other crime.
Gobind also said that the 57-year-old was being treated for his heart problems, diabetes and arthritis, besides having a son in university and a teenage daughter in secondary school.
But deputy public prosecutor Muhammad Ilmami Ahmad said the fact that Haris was a first-time offender does not prevent the court from imposing a jail term.
He argued that the evidence showed Haris as having incited the public to change the government through unlawful means, claiming that the remarks “threaten the public's peace, harmony and unity”.
The government lawyer also said that if such a situation was allowed to go on, the public would no longer respect the government of the day and would call it a “cruel government”.
“As an experienced lawyer who is involved in NGO activities, with his knowledge and experience, the accused should use methods that are legally correct to solve issues about election,” he said.
Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan also represented Haris today, while Norinna Bahadun also appeared for the government.
Haris and four others ― activists Hishammuddin Rais and Muhammad Safwan Anang, politician Chua Tian Chang and Tamrin Ghafar ― were all charged in the Sessions Court on May 29, 2013 under the same section. Student activist Adam Adli Abdul Halim was charged under the same law a day earlier.
On January 9 last year, the KL Sessions Court found Hishamuddin guilty of sedition for his 2013 speech and fined him RM5,000 in default of six months’ jail, but this January saw the High Court increasing it to a nine-month jail term.
On September 5, 2013, Safwan was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment after the court found him guilty of making a speech with seditious tendency at the same forum, but this was reduced to a RM5,000 fine last December.
Adam Adli was convicted on September 19, 2014 and sentenced to a one-year in jail term, but this February saw it reduced to a RM5,000 fine by the High Court.