Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Johari (not his real name) spent more than 16 years behind bars, both as a remand prisoner and on death row, for alleged drug trafficking in Malaysia. Last Tuesday, he was finally freed by the Court of Appeal after a long and strenuous legal battle for his liberty. His lawyer Karpal Singh said Johari has the dubious distinction of having...
Johari (not his real name) spent more than 16 years behind bars, both as a remand prisoner and on death row, for alleged drug trafficking in Malaysia.
Last Tuesday, he was finally freed by the Court of Appeal after a long and strenuous legal battle for his liberty.
His lawyer Karpal Singh said Johari has the dubious distinction of having spent the longest time in a Malaysian prison before being acquitted.
Police caught Johari and another person with 35kg of ganja in Gelugor, Penang, on January 4, 1998, and he was in remand ever since as the offence is not bailable.
However, the other person caught with him was acquitted of the charge by the High Court in May 2004.
Johari was sentenced to death twice, first in May 2004 and the second time in January 2011 by a High Court in Penang.
Karpal said following Johari’s conviction, he was placed on the death row between 2004 and 2010.
Following his final appeal, the Federal Court in 2010 set aside the conviction and ordered a retrial.
He was again sentenced to death on January 2011 but last week, the Court of Appeal acquitted him on technical grounds.
Karpal said a retrial meant that his client must be charged again in a magistrate's court before the trafficking trial could begin in a High Court.
“In short, they should have repeated all procedures and supplied documents to the defence as if Johari was facing a fresh charge,” he said.
But the prosecution, Karpal said, just started the trial in the High Court without following the proper procedure.
Although he is free now, Johari still has difficulty shaking off his past in the Perlis prison. He has been in there too long.
"Everyone in there is under immense stress because they are on death row. It changes you. It breaks you inside.
"You never come out the same again even after you are acquitted or pardoned. The damage is done. You won't know what it is like unless you have been there," the 41-year-old told The Malaysian Insider in an interview in Penang on Saturday.
Johari said he went through an ordeal unimaginable by others and lost many years of his life locked up in a cell alone in the prison with poor facilities while fighting to escape the mandatory death sentence.
"There was no television set but prisoners occasionally got access to newspapers. My only companion was a walkman my family brought me.
"When my family members came to see me, we had 30 minutes to talk through a screen that prevents all physical contact. That is not even allowed during Hari Raya," he said.
Johari appeared almost in a daze when he spoke of his experience behind bars, as if he is still stunned by all that has happened.
However, he spoke firmly and clearly that he would like to see the death penalty abolished because every human being deserves another chance.
He said he lived in fear while in prison, knowing how some of his fellow inmates were taken away and never brought back, and could only pray.
"The death penalty allows no forgiveness. Don't do that to others. People should not make laws to kill other people," he said, adding that the Pardons Board is slow in giving death row inmates a new lease on life.
Johari's younger brother, who wants to be known as Johan, 39, said their parents took what happened to their eldest son very hard and gave up hope several times over the years.
The family knew little about the law, he said, and could only depend on Karpal and his lawyer son Jagdeep Singh Deo to guide them through it. Jagdeep is now an exco member in the Penang government and no longer in practice.
"We are so happy that Johari is back with us. If all that didn't happen, I think he would be married and has two kids by now.
"Our family stuck together through the hard times. We had to deal with the stigma. People are generally not so forgiving and understanding when they think you have a criminal in your family," Johan said.
On what is next for Johari, Johan said his brother will have to get reacquainted with the world that has changed immensely in the last 16 years.
"I will take it a step at a time. I think maybe I can do some business in the future. With my damaged record and age, I don't think people will want to hire me," Johari said.
Karpal said Johari had likely made Malaysian history as the man who spent the most years behind bars before he got an acquittal.
He said he was also puzzled with how Johari's case went – going through the High Court and then the Federal Court for a retrial only to be sentenced to death by hanging for a second time.
"One trial was bad enough. It puzzled me too," Karpal said, adding that he even wrote to the Attorney General to ask for Johari's charge to be amended to drug possession, which is only punishable by imprisonment, but his request was denied.
Karpal, who has advocated for the abolishment of the death penalty before, said some cases require judges to use their discretion when passing judgment.
"The mandatory death sentence puts pressure on judges too," he said, adding the court must be given the discretion to impose the death penalty or imprisonment based on the facts of the case.; March 3, 2014. - MSN News, 3/3/2014, Freed after 16 years, Malaysia’s longest-serving remand prisoner
Original Source: - Malaysian Insider