By Shannon Teoh
KUALA LUMPUR, March — Lawyers stunned by the Federal Court’s one-year jail sentence for contempt of court against an imam who threw his shoes at three senior judges have called for a review of the “excessive” punishment.
The court decided this morning that Hoslan Hussin’s “act of contempt was very serious” and “if no action is taken, can threaten the powers of the court” before meting out the jail tern that several lawyers told The Malaysian Insider was unprecedented for a case of contempt.
“No, I have never seen such a heavy punishment. Even considering the need for a deterrent, I had expected a custodial sentence but no more than six weeks. Does the punishment really serve justice?” said senior lawyer Karpal Singh, who had pleaded in mitigation for Hoslan.
Human rights lawyer N. Surendran also said “the sentence is excessive and inappropriate”.
“The circumstances of this case required that justice should be tempered with mercy. This the Federal Court failed to do,” the PKR vice president said.
“The Bar would urge the Federal Court to review this sentence and show the same compassion which it did on the first occasion when the act of contempt happened by leaving the matter be” — Bar Council President Lim Chee Wee
Several observers have also pointed out that the 12-month jail term was the same meted out on former Selangor Mentri Besar Dr Mohamed Khir Toyo for abuse of power.
Hoslan had flung his shoes at the Federal Court Bench on February 22 after it struck out his bid to challenge an eviction order from a city mosque here in 1999 on a technicality.
He stunned the judges, lawyers and members of the public that packed a courtroom at the Federal Court when he stood up, took off both his shoes and lobbed the pair right at the Bench.
The same three-man Bench, led by Chief Judge of Malaya Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, decided today after “analysing your explanation” it was inadequate and found Hoslan in contempt.
“The court must bring a sentence that is appropriate and a deterrent,” Zulkefli said during sentencing.
Bar Council representative Arthur Wang, who held a watching brief during this morning’s hearing, had also called for a stiff punishment as a deterrent was needed.
But its president Lim Chee Wee told The Malaysian Insider this evening that the one-year prison sentence “is harsh even where a deterrent is justified.”
He said it is convention for courts to allow unrepresented laymen “more leeway in procedural requirements” so “it would appear that the contempnor may have been denied his day in court.”
“The Bar would urge the Federal Court to review this sentence and show the same compassion which it did on the first occasion when the act of contempt happened by leaving the matter be,” Lim said.
Karpal had also said in mitigation that the court must consider the “emotional element” as the 13 years since Hoslan was evicted caused “attrition in the mind” of the father of seven.
The Bukit Gelugor MP said Hoslan only works as an environmental officer with the Environmental Department and has to care for the children aged between six and 16.
But the Attorney-General’s Chambers argued that a jail sentence was needed as a deterrent.
“It has brought ridicule to this honourable court. A custodial sentence is warranted as a deterrent... for the proper administration of justice,” senior federal counsel Suzana Atan said.
But Surendran noted that the judiciary should guard its own dignity “by the strength of their moral authority, and not by imprisoning people.”
“Public perception is that the judiciary is not independent and that they have failed to safeguard the basic rights of Malaysians. This lack of confidence and respect can lead to a recurrence of incidents like the shoe-throwing case,” he said.