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Malaysian death row inmate in bid to cite Singapore minister for contempt

Rahmat Karimon and 16 other prisoners say K Shanmugam's remarks in parliament pose a risk of prejudice or interference with their ongoing court case on racial discrimination.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Singapore Home Minister K Shanmugam. Photo: AP
Singapore Home Minister K Shanmugam. Photo: AP

A Malaysian prisoner on death row in Singapore has applied to the High Court in the city-state to cite the home minister for contempt of court, following comments made by K Shanmugam in parliament said to have undermined an earlier civil suit on racial discrimination in the authorities’ prosecution of cases involving capital crime.

Rahmat Karimon, represented by rights lawyer M Ravi, is one of 17 prisoners who recently filed a suit accusing the Singapore government of racial bias due to their Malay ethnicity.

They had named the attorney-general as the defendant, accusing him of breaching a constitutional guarantee on equal treatment under the law.

Rahmat is the only Malaysian in the group; the other 16 are Singaporeans.

The originating summons dated Oct 7, seeking leave for an order of committal against Shanmugam, was filed by Syed Suhail Syed Zin, one of the 16 Singaporean prisoners.

It said the minister had referred to the ongoing case in parliament in the following remarks:

“There is a case pending, an application by 17 prisoners awaiting capital punishment; they are making an application against the attorney-general; they seek various reliefs against the attorney-general; various allegations have been made, which the AGC considered to be completely scurrilous, and without basis, and made to simply throw mud and stir…”

“We take the view that such public comments amount to an interference or pose a real risk of prejudice or interference with the course of a court proceeding that is currently pending, namely OS 825,” the prisoners said.

“This amounts to contempt of court under Section 3(1)(b) of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act 2016. Such comments made in contempt of court are also not protected by parliamentary privilege.”

The prisoners’ joint affidavit in their initial suit, spanning close to 100 pages, had that Malays sentenced to death are “significantly overrepresented” compared to their share in the population of Singapore.

They said while Singapore’s racial proportion had remained more or less the same over the decades, the same was not the case when it came to people who are sentenced to death.

Malays make up 13.5% of the population in the city-state, where 74.3% are Chinese and 9% are Indians, based on official statistics up to June last year.

MalaysiaNow, which carried a report on the suit, was later threatened with contempt of court action by the Singapore attorney-general, along with Ravi and rights group Lawyers for Liberty.