KUALA LUMPUR: Sept 18, 2008 By M. MAGESWARI
Twenty-seven men who admitted to failing to disperse from the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) unlawful assemblies around the city on Nov 25 last year despite police order to do so were fined RM1,000 each.
They have to serve three weeks in jail in default of the payment.
In sentencing the group Thursday, sessions court judge Akhtar Tahir said he had considered mitigating factors such as their guilty pleas which had saved the court substantive time and costs.
“The fact that they have pleaded guilty after 12 witnesses were called to testify (only) indicates that they have shown remorse for their actions,” he said.
Akhtar said he also considered the fact that the 27 men did not show actual violence at the assemblies and were first-time offenders.
“I conclude that the number of days they had present in court during the trial is also punishment for them,” he said.
Akhtar added that he had taken into account that an illegal assembly however peaceful is a serious offence as it had disturbed public order and endangered public property.
“I feel that it is not necessary for a jail term to be imposed on them. On the other hand, the sentence of fine has to be substantial so that it will not be a slap on the wrist but will teach them a lesson,” he said.
The judge said the fine would be a punishment for the group as they faced financial difficulty.
Akhtar said he had considered their admission to the first charge for being members of the unlawful assembly due to the defence’s team representation to the Attorney-General’s Chambers earlier.
53 people, comprising mostly odd-job workers and labourers, had claimed trial to the second charge of continuing to be in an unlawful assembly knowing that there was an order to disperse.
On Thursday, 45 men and a woman aged between 21 and 62 turned up for the continuation of the two-week trial.
Of the figure, 27 admitted to the charge. Five people who were on medical leave were absent while two people had been issued arrest warrants.
Pleading for leniency earlier, Chairman of the Criminal Practice Committee of the KL Bar Datuk N.Sivananthan argued that his clients had saved the court cost and time in view of the 200 subpoenas which had been issued for the case.
He said the group did not have any motive to create problems or protest but merely wanted to submit a petition to Queen Elizabeth through the British High Commmission over compensation for Indians.
Sivananthan said the two or three nights served under remand after their arrest itself was a bitter experience and punishment for them.
He said the two weeks’ trial had also resulted in many losing their jobs and income.
DPP Amir Nasruddin pressed for a deterrent sentence saying that their refusal to disperse after an order was given showed their intention to commit the offence.
The prosecutor said the court had to consider public interest.
“The assembly itself had caused disturbance to road users including the public transport system,” he added.
Akhtar set Tuesday to hear the case against the 26 people who faced similar charges after Sivananthan said he believed more people would plead guilty to the charges that day.
Sivananthan said four people had settled their fines while the remaining had paid a minimum of RM50 each and agreed to settle the difference within two months due to his application to the judge.