Preacher's appeals filed before PH took office

Malaysia's A-G responds to criticism after court rejects appeal against sedition charge

Malaysia's top prosecutor, responding to criticism after a Muslim preacher lost his appeal and was jailed under the controversial Sedition Act that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has vowed to repeal, yesterday said the appeals in the case were lodged before PH came to power.

Giving the timeline of the case against Wan Ji Wan Hussin, who was convicted of insulting the Selangor Sultan, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said both the preacher and the public prosecutor decided to appeal against the nine-month jail sentence handed down by the Sessions Court in April last year.

This was prior to the May 9 general election, which saw the PH coalition end the six-decade rule of the Barisan Nasional (BN).

On Tuesday, the country's High Court dismissed Wan Ji's appeal against conviction and, in allowing the prosecution's cross-appeal against the sentence, increased his jail term to one year.

The court's decision resulted in Wan Ji, a member of the ruling Parti Keadilan Rakyat, becoming the first person to be jailed under the Sedition Act in the PH administration.

It came under fire from both civil society and members of the ruling PH who wanted an explanation from the A-G.

They also called for the Mahathir Mohamad administration to fulfil its repeated promise to do away with the Sedition Act.

Critics say the Act has been used by the previous BN government to stifle dissent.

The preacher was released on bail yesterday.

Wan Ji was a former religious adviser to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng when Mr Lim was Penang's chief minister.

While Mr Thomas acknowledged that repealing the law was one of Pakatan's electoral promises, he added that "the Cabinet has not informed Chambers of any decision to repeal or amend it".

Neither has there been any instruction not to use the Sedition Act as that "discretionary power under the Constitution (is) vested solely in the office of the Attorney-General", he added.

But he pointed out that not a single person has been charged under the Sedition Act since last year's general election.

Referring to Wan Ji's appeal, Mr Thomas said the Attorney-General's Chambers was studying the options open to it, but noted that given the preacher's conviction by two courts, "the margin of discretion in his office is substantially limited".

On Thursday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the Sedition Act would be repealed and replaced with a new law that his government was in the process of drafting. "We are in the midst of structuring the new law and it will be concluded as soon as possible," he told reporters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2019, with the headline 'Preacher's appeals filed before PH took office'. Print Edition | Subscribe