The Court of Appeal this morning acquitted former student activist Muhammad Safwan Anang of his sedition conviction.
In an unanimous decision read out by Justice Prasad Sandosham Abraham, it said the courts must test objectively whether Safwan’s statement indeed has seditious tendency - as laid out in a precedent against the late Karpal Singh - or was merely political commentary.
“Having perused through the (impugned) statement ourselves, we are satisfied that the statement does not have a seditious tendency.
“It would follow therefore that the prosecution has failed to prove a prima facie case against the appellant in the Sessions Court, and therefore should have been acquitted,” Justice Prasad said.
The court then ordered the acquittal and discharge of Safwan, and for the prosecution’s cross-appeal for Safwan’s jail sentence to the reinstated to be dismissed.
The three-member panel was chaired by Justice Mohtaruddin Baki. The other member was Justice Zakaria Sam.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, a visibly relieved Safwan vowed to continue campaigning for the abolition of the Sedition Act 1948.
“We believe this is a very good and very positive signal for us to continue our campaign, and the government should listen. Today’s case is the strongest signal, in which the Court of Appeal itself has acquitted me of sedition.
“It shows that, truly, the government should listen to the voice and criticisms of the people openly. This is criticism, so why should we who criticise the government be charged for sedition, whereas the necessity of the Sedition Act itself ought to be reconsidered?” said Safwan, who is now a Bersih steering committee member.
Made speech a week after GE13
Safwan was accused of making a speech encouraging the people to topple the government through illegal means on May 13, 2013, at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, about a week after the 13th general election, amid nationwide demonstrations against the election results.
Kuala Lumpur Sessions Court found Safwan guilty of an offence under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act, and sentenced him to 10 months’ imprisonment.
Upon his appeal, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur upheld the conviction, but commuted Safwan's prison term to a RM5,000 fine, or two year’s jail if the fails to pay. This came despite a cross-appeal from the prosecution to enhance the sentence, which was rejected.
Safwan then appealed to the Court of Appeal seeking to overturn his conviction, while the prosecution cross-appealed to seek a reinstatement of the Session Court’s jail sentence.
During final submissions on July 18, before the court adjourned sine die until today, Safwan’s lead counsel Ariff Azami Hussein had argued that the charges against Safwan were defective.
This was because there was nothing in Safwan’s speech to imply he had said what he was accused of saying, and had instead advocated legitimate means of calling for change, such as the handing of memoranda to the government.
At worst, Safwan had merely told the people to no longer trust the government, Ariff Azami had argued then.
On his part, deputy public prosecutor Muhammad Azmi Mashud urged the court to consider the seriousness of Safwan’s alleged offence.
Meanwhile, Gerakan Hapus Akta Hasutan (Ghah) welcomed the court decision.
"Ghah also urges for all other prosecutions under the Sedition Act to be immediately dropped and for the outdated law to be abolished," Ghah coordinator Amir Abd Hadi said.
Amir said the definition of "seditious tendency" under the Act was too wide and could be abused.