Activist Irene Fernandez acquitted (updated)

KUALA LUMPUR: After 13 years of struggle, social activist Irene Fernandez was finally freed from a charge of publishing false news about the abuse of migrant workers in a detention camp.

The 62-year-old director of Tenaganita, which she set up in 1991 to fight for migrant workers’ rights here, had her conviction set aside by the High Court on Monday.

There were clapping and shouts of joy from Fernandez’s family and supporters when Justice Mohd Apandi Ali announced his decision to overturn the one-year jail sentence meted out by the magistrate’s court in 2003 following an appeal by Fernandez.

Her three children Camverra Jose Maliamauv, Tania Jo and Katrina Jorene hugged their mother as tears of joy streamed down her face.

At the outset of the proceeding Monday, DPP Shamsul Sulaiman told the court that he would not pursue with the cross-appeal filed by the prosecution.

He said that after being served with the records of the proceedings of Irene’s case and discovering systemic errors in the records, he decided that justice would not be achieved by opposing the appeal.

In the light of the prosecution not opposing the appeal “there is no necessity to deliberate on this appeal further,” said Mohd Apandi.

“I hereby reverse the sentence and acquit and discharge the appellant.

“The conviction and sentence is hereby set aside. The cross-appeal is dismissed,” he said.

Fernandez later said that she was “relieved and very happy that truth and justice had prevailed” as she had not expected the result when she got up this morning.

She said she would continue to struggle for freedom of expression and justice for detainees and migrant workers.

In 1995, Fernandez wrote a memorandum titled Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres.

A year later, she was arrested and charged under Section 8A (1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act.

She was represented by counsel M. Puravalen.

Bar Council chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan who was present said the Bar was happy that good sense and justice had prevailed.

She added that the Bar had always maintained that the case was a flawed one and the case was a “travesty” against Fernandez.

“It was a pity that she had to suffer for 13 years before justice was finally done,” said Ambiga.

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