Those who refuse to testify in Batu Puteh RCI face arrest, says Azalina

KUALA LUMPUR: Warrants of arrest can be issued against those who refuse to testify before the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Batu Puteh, Batuan Tengah and Tubir Selatan, says Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

"The RCI formed has several important powers to carry out an in-depth investigation to get the true facts for justice for Malaysians.

"Among these powers is summoning people to testify, to issue warrants of arrest against those refusing to do so and issuing fines," said the Minister in the Prime Department (Law and Institutional Reforms) when addressing the Dewan Rakyat Special Chambers on Tuesday (Feb 27).

Azalina said that the RCI would be given one to three months and up to six months to complete its probe, depending on the scope and complexity of the issues.

Once completed, she said the RCI report would be presented to the King before it is presented to the Cabinet to determine any appropriate action.

"The government has also given its commitment that the RCI report will be tabled in Parliament," she added.

On Jan 24, the Chief Secretary to the Government announced the setting up of the RCI following approval from the Cabinet.

The RCI was set up to scrutinise issues related to the sovereignty of Batu Puteh (Pedra Branca), Batuan Tengah (Middle Rocks) and Tubir Selatan (South Ledge).

The RCI comes after the loss of Batu Puteh to Singapore following a ruling by the International Court of Justice (IJC) in May 2008, and the subsequent decision by the government in 2018 to withdraw a review application of the court's decision before it was heard in June that year.

The dispute over Batu Puteh and the nearby rock outcrop between the two countries started in 1979 and was referred to the ICJ in 2008.

The court ruled that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore while Middle Rocks belongs to Malaysia, with the sovereignty of South Ledge remaining unclear.

On Feb 3, 2017, the Malaysian government filed an application for a revision of the ICJ's ruling in awarding legal jurisdiction of Batu Puteh to Singapore in June of the following year.

However, the then-Pakatan Harapan administration under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad withdrew the application before its scheduled hearing on June 11, 2018.

This led to an outcry from several quarters, and in 2021 even Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar demanded a clear explanation as to why the Federal Government had dropped the review application.

His Majesty said that not pursuing the case was as good as admitting defeat.

In November 2021, the Cabinet agreed to set up a special task force to look into the reasons behind the decision by the previous government to drop the application to review the case.

In December 2022, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim called for the claim on Batu Puteh to be reviewed through immediate and more meaningful negotiation with Singapore, without jeopardising bilateral relations.

Meanwhile, Azalina said that the RCI was the best platform to determine the decision-making process which led to the loss of Batu Puteh.

"We did not lose in court. In fact, the ICJ itself stated that the rocks (batuan) had once been the possession of the Johor Lama sultanate," she said.

She said that it was appropriate that Malaysians, particularly Johoreans, are given an explanation as to why the application for a review of the court's decision was discontinued.

On Feb 14, it was reported that His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim, King of Malaysia had consented to the setting up of the RCI and the appointment of seven members, including former chief justice Tun Md Raus Sharif as chairman and former Federal Court judge Tan Sri Zainun Ali as the deputy chairman.

On Feb 16, Dr Mahathir's lawyer Rafique Rashid had objected to the appointment of Md Raus, citing an alleged conflict of interest.

Dr Mahathir had declined to participate in the RCI probe.

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