Catholic Priest Would Choose Jail Over Fine If Found Guilty Of Illegal Assembly

Rev Father Paulino Miranda could be jailed a year and fined up to RM10,000 for taking part in a candlelight vigil four years ago in Petaling Jaya near here despite a new law allowing public assemblies in Malaysia. 

But the Malaysian Catholic priest has said he would rather be locked up than spend a single sen on the fine. 

“I would rather go to jail than pay a fine but only if they find me guilty,” Miranda told The Malaysian Insider.

“Paying the fine would be conceding that what I did was wrong,” he added when contacted yesterday. 

Miranda is among 21 people on trial for taking part in an illegal assembly in Petaling Jaya on October 9, 2008 and refusing a police order to disperse, under section 27(5)(a) and section 27(4) of the Police Act 1967 which have since been amended and replaced with a new law allowing peaceful public rallies. 

Despite the change in law, the charge remains. 

The vocal parish priest of the only Catholic church in Shah Alam, the capital of Malaysia’s most-developed state, said he had asked his lawyer, Francis Pereira, to write in to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) in September last year asking for the charges against him to be dropped following the change in law. It was to no avail. 

The public prosecutor wrote back three months later in November 2011 rejecting his application. 

“We will continue the prosecution against your client under section 27(5)(a) and section 27(4) of the Police Act 1967,” deputy public prosecutor Mohamad Hanafiah Zakaria said in his letter of reply dated last November 22. 

“I’ve decided simply because, as far as I am concerned, I did not do anything wrong. 

“The whole thing was a candlelight vigil calling for the abolishment of the ISA,” Miranda said, referring to the recently repealed Internal Security Act, which had been criticised as an outdated law used to clamp down on dissent against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government. 

The parish priest of the Church of Divine Mercy has made no secret of his stand and says he has also informed the Catholic Archbishop, Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam, of his decision. 

“Yes, I told him. He didn’t chide me. He said he’ll pray for me,” he said. 

Asked what would happen to his church if he had to go to jail, he said: “Oh, don’t worry. We’re all not indispensable.” 

But not everyone agrees with Miranda’s decision. His own lawyer seemed concerned for his client’s welfare. 

Pereira told The Malaysian Insider he was aware that Miranda had been telling several people about his jail-than-pay-fine stand, but could not sway the priest to change his mind. 

“I am the lawyer, I wouldn’t advise something like that. 

“He’s got a mind of his own and his own convictions,” the lawyer said. 

The prosecution closed its case yesterday. It will be a while before the court makes its ruling. 

Miranda will be back in the dock on August 9 for submissions. 

Also on trial are Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, Selangor DAP state assemblymen Ronnie Liu and Lau Weng San, and Petaling Jaya city councillor Tiew Way Keng. 

They are accused of taking part in an illegal assembly held on the grounds in front of the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) building on October 9, 2008 between 9pm and 10.10pm, and failing to disperse after a police order was given by Supt Mohamad Shukor Sulong about 9.50pm. 

All 21 accused, whose ages ranged between 25 and 62, have pleaded not guilty. 

If found guilty, they can be fined up to RM10,000 and jailed up to one year under section 27(8) of the same Police Act. 

“This is a process of intimidation to drive fear into people from exercising their democratic right of peaceful assembly,” Rev Father O.C. Lim from the Catholic Research Centre here told The Malaysian Insider when Miranda was initially charged. 

The case has been linked to the two Bersih rallies on July 9 last year and the more recent April 28 assembly in Dataran Merdeka, putting the spotlight on the government’s use of laws to clamp down on dissent, despite having repealed the controversial ISA.

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