SAPA case: Federal govt withdraws appeal, cites freedom of expression, speech

Ng (left) with fellow counsel Voon Lee Shan speaking to DayakDaily after the Federal Court ruling.

KUCHING, July 19: The Federal Court has struck out the appeal of the Home Minister, Registrar of Societies and the Malaysian government against Sarawak Association for Peoples’ Aspiration (SAPA) today.

Senior federal counsel (SFC) Shamsul Bolhassan told the full bench of five judges — Zainun Ali, Ramly Ali, Balia Yusof Wahi, Alizatul Khair Osman Khairuddin and Rohana Yusuf — that he had been instructed by the federal government to withdraw the appeal.

Shamsul later said the federal government withdrew the appeal because it was inconsistent with the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s stand on freedom of expression and speech.

On November 14, 2014, former Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi declared SAPA unlawful under Section 5(1) of the Societies Act 1966.

SAPA was deemed a threat to security and public order, and was, therefore, declared to be illegal for conducting any activities.

The association was actively campaigning for the return of lost and eroded state rights under the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63).

SAPA president Lina Soo and two others, namely Hugh Lawrence Zehnder and Tambi Pilang, then filed an application for judicial review at the High Court through their counsel Dominique Ng.

On October 30, 2015, High Court Judge Rhodzariah Bujang overturned the ban, saying it was “irrational, illegal, unconstitutional and without basis”.

On October 19 the following year, Zahid appealed against the High Court decision to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal also dismissed the case, citing that the High Court judge had not erred in her ruling.

Zahid then appealed against the Court of Appeal’s decision to the Federal Court.

Explaining the case in detail outside the court this morning, Soo’s counsel Dominique Ng said they had written to the federal Attorney-General (AG) on June 18 this year, urging the AG to consider whether the latter should withdraw its appeal to the Federal Court since Zahid was no longer the home minister nor the deputy prime minister. In addition, he argued, the new government promoted freedom of speech and expression.

“The SFC did inform me that they are considering the circumstances and have written to the Federal Court on May 31 to withdraw the appeal.

“The new government’s decision to withdraw the appeal reflected their stand on human rights and freedom of speech. It has given us the sense that they are doing the right things,” Ng said to reporters covering the case. — DayakDaily