Court Clears 21, Including DAP’s Pua And Catholic Priest, In Bersih Vigil Case

Twenty-one people, including several opposition lawmakers and a Catholic priest, were acquitted by a Sessions Court today for taking part in a Bersih anniversary candlelight vigil held four years ago.

Sessions Court judge Hayatul Akmal ruled this morning that the prosecution had failed to prove a prima facie case against the individuals, who were earlier charged with participating in an “illegal assembly” under the now-repealed section 27 of the Police Act.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom here, lawyer and DAP MP Gobind Singh Deo urged the prosecution not to appeal the matter to a higher court.

“This is a great victory for us, particularly since this case has been going on for almost three years now,” said the Puchong MP.

Rev Father Paulino Miranda, Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, Selangor DAP state assemblymen Ronnie Liu and Lau Weng San, and Petaling Jaya city councillor Tiew Way Keng, were charged with taking part in an illegal assembly in front of the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) building on October 9, 2008 between 9pm and 10.10pm.

They were accused of refusing a police order to disperse under section 27(5)(a) and section 27(4) of the Police Act 1967 which has since been amended and replaced with a new law allowing for peaceful public rallies.

All the 21 accused, whose ages ranged between 25 and 62, had earlier pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a maximum fine of up to RM10,000, and a maximum one-year jail term.

“In the first place, this is not even an offence. So I hope the AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) will accept the court’s decision and not appeal,” DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang told reporters today.

Pua, who is also the DAP’s publicity secretary, agreed, saying the vigil participants should not have even been detained as the event had not been violent.

“Malaysians should not be arrested for gathering peacefully, singing ‘Negaraku’ or lighting candles.

“We call upon the government to respect the spirit of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011 and the right of Malaysians to gather freely,” he said.

In June, Miranda, who is the parish priest of the Catholic church in Shah Alam, told The Malaysian Insider that he would rather go to jail than spend a single sen on a fine for his participation in the vigil.

“Paying the fine would be conceding that what I did was wrong,” he had said.

The vocal priest had also asked his lawyer, Francis Pereira, to write in to the Attorney-General’s Chambers 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.

“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 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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