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Karpal Singh, the tiger who fought for justice

Published on Apr 17, 2014 12:49 PM

The sudden death of Mr Karpal Singh - lawyer, veteran MP and a staunch member of the opposition - has left a gaping hole in Malaysian politics and its legal sector.

Tears flowed and tributes poured in for Mr Karpal, popularly nicknamed the 'Tiger of Jelutong', for his tenacity and fearlessness in standing up for his convictions, whether in court or in Parliament.

Jelutong was the parliamentary seat in Penang that became synonymous with him after he held it for five terms after first winning it in the 1978 general election. He contested and won the Bukit Gelugor seat, also in Penang, in the 2013 general election.

Mr Karpal died in a road accident in Perak while on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Penang to attend a court hearing on Thursday. He was 73.

In 2005, Mr Karpal was involved in an accident which left him paralysed and wheelchair-bound.

He graduated from the University of Singapore in 1969, and was in active law practice and politics since then.

He was regarded as an icon in court, even when he appeared in the dock in February to face a charge of sedition over his remarks on the crisis in Perak in 2009 after the opposition government was toppled through defections.

He was convicted and fined RM4,000 (S$1,540), and had risked losing his seat if the conviction was upheld. He resigned his chairmanship of the Democratic Action Party, soon after that, as the law barred a convicted person from active politics.

This was, however, not his first time running foul of the authorities.

He had faced previous sedition charges, and was also detained for two years under the Internal Security Act in 1987.

But he never cowered.

"Eliminating me from the political terrain will not be the end of Karpal Singh. It will in fact lead to the rise of many Karpal Singhs!" he said in a statement on Feb 24, days after his conviction for sedition.

To many Malaysians, Mr Karpal was a man who stood for justice and spoke for those without a voice. He was firmly opposed to the death penalty, and fought numerous capital punishment cases in court even for those who could not afford his legal fees.

Mr Karpal twice defended opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim against sodomy charges. Anwar was acquitted in 2012 but that was overturned by a higher court in March in a ruling denounced by rights groups.

Born in Penang on June 28, 1940, Mr Karpal leaves behind wife Gurmit Kaur, a daughter and four sons, and four grandchildren.