Lawyer Siti Kasim was acquitted over a charge of obstructing the duties of a public servant at a Federal Territories Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) raid on a transgender event in 2016.
Kuala Lumpur magistrate Tawfiq Affandy Chin this morning ruled that the prosecution did not establish a prima facie case against the activist, whose real name is Siti Zabedah Kasim.
On June 23, 2017, Siti claimed trial to the charge under Section 186 of the Penal Code, which concerns “obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his public functions”.
The raid in question occurred during a transwomen event in April 2016, at the Renaissance Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, where Siti was present as a guest.
Today’s decision came at the end of the prosecution’s case, following a trial that saw six prosecution witnesses take the stand.
Fourth prosecution witness, Jawi enforcement officer Siti Nor Jihan Saleh @ Md Ghazali, was the one who was allegedly obstructed from performing her official duty during the 2016 raid.
During the open-court proceedings today, Tawfiq ruled that the charge against Siti was defective because it did not specifically state how the accused was alleged to have obstructed Siti Nor Jihan from carrying out her duty.
The magistrate pointed out that the charge also did not state clearly how Siti’s action leaned towards an actual offence, among others.
“The charge did not state specifically the form of obstruction by the accused during the incident.
“Even though the DPP has the power to amend the charge, but there has been no such action (to apply to amend the charge).
“The court is of the view that the charge is defective and had not been corrected at this stage,” Tawfiz said as Siti looked on from the dock.
The magistrate noted that the raid itself was procedurally improper, as it required a warrant, especially when the 2016 dinner was a private event.
Tawfiq also noted that video evidence tendered during the trial showed that Siti’s action during the raid was consistent with that of a lawyer performing her duty to advise her client.
“From the video recording (of the 2016 raid), the accused’s action is more towards that of a lawyer carrying out her duty towards her client on a disputed legal issue regarding the warrant of arrest (allegedly not produced during the raid).
“As the accused was a lawyer (carrying out her duty as counsel) during the incident, the (Jawi) officers should have carried out their duties with more “hemat” (prudence).
“The court also found that during the (2016) operation, SP4 (Fourth Prosecution Witness Siti Nor Jihan) and the other Jawi officers managed to seize items (at the site) without obstruction from the accused.
“The video showed that Jawi (officers) entered the (dinner) hall easily,” Tawfiq said.
When met after the proceedings today, DPP Nur Ashikin Mokhtar said that she will discuss with the prosecution on whether to appeal the verdict.
Nur Ashikin added that the prosecution has 14 days from today to file any Notice of Appeal.
Defence counsel Rajsurian Pillai and Suzana Norlihan Alias appeared for Siti.
Lawyer Arik Zakri Abdul Kadir and Tay Kit Hoo held watching brief for Jawi and the Malaysian Bar, respectively.
According to Siti’s press statement issued today, the activist said the verdict was a vindication for her, for having merely performed her duty as lawyer to her client during the 2016 raid.
“I was only carrying out my duty as a lawyer during the dinner that night.
“People would ask why there was a lawyer at the dinner. This is because the transgender community are always harassed by the authorities, even though they are only carrying on with their lives just like other people,” Siti said.
The lawyer expressed hope that today’s verdict would serve as a lesson to the authorities to abide by the law and not get involved in any alleged abuse of power.
She also expressed hope that with today’s ruling, the authorities would change the way they deal with every level of society, regardless of race, religion, gender or status.
Siti, who was visibly overjoyed at the decision, said she thanked God and her defence team.
“This victory shows that from the start, I was not supposed to be charged in court.
“Witnesses have said that the police received instructions from above to charge me in court,” she told reporters.
Meanwhile, Suzana said the magistrate agreed with the defence’s argument that the manner by which Jawi had conducted the raid was wrong.
She also revealed that no one who was arrested in the raid, including Siti, was charged later in the Shariah Court.
“Jawi described the event as a beauty pageant to the media, but the police report called it a dinner ceremony with a beauty pageant theme. There was never any contest.
“Any member of the public should be wary if they are arrested by Jawi. They must check the police report,” she said.
During the proceedings, Jawi enforcement division assistant director Akmal Nadzim Abdullah said he led a team tasked with carrying out the raid at the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel on April 3, 2016, following a tip-off.
Akmal said he also explained that the raid was being conducted under Section 9 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories Act) 1997 for breaching a fatwa (edict) which states that Muslims are not allowed to take part in beauty pageants.
Siti was taken along with the event organiser to a police station, but was released that same night after Jawi denied arresting her.
However, on June 13, 2017, more than a year after the event, Siti was notified of charges under Section 186 of the Penal Code, which carry a penalty of two years’ imprisonment and/or a RM10,000 fine for obstructing a public official.
In September 2019, Siti sued Jawi and 14 of its officers for compensation over her alleged wrongful arrest and illegal detention during the 2016 raid.