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Lawyer who defended mentally disabled duo accused of contempt of court in Singapore

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty questions the timing of the contempt of court applications served on M Ravi yesterday.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
Lawyer M Ravi stands outside the Supreme Court in Singapore on Nov 9, 2021, ahead of the court's announcement on the appeal to halt the execution of Malaysian Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam. Photo: AFP
Lawyer M Ravi stands outside the Supreme Court in Singapore on Nov 9, 2021, ahead of the court's announcement on the appeal to halt the execution of Malaysian Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam. Photo: AFP

The Singapore attorney-general has served contempt of court applications on prominent human rights lawyer M Ravi, rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) said today in the wake of last-ditch attempts to save two mentally disabled prisoners on death row in the city-state from being sent to the gallows.

LFL said the applications served on Ravi yesterday were allegedly based on his conduct during two cases handled in November last year, questioning the attorney-general’s claim, among others, that he had been “rude” to the court.

“This is a ridiculous reason to cite defence counsel for contempt,” it said in a statement issued by its chief coordinator Zaid Malek.

“This is not the first time the attorney-general has resorted to intimidating tactics in an attempt to not only persecute Ravi, but to discourage any lawyers in Singapore from vigorously pursuing court challenges in Singapore’s notorious and deadly death penalty regime.”

It also said it was “baffling and suspicious” that the contempt charges were only activated as Ravi was working on the case of Singaporean Roslan Bakar and Malaysian Pausi Jefridin last week.

The duo had been scheduled to hang for trafficking drugs in Singapore, which has some of the world’s toughest drugs laws.

This was despite criticism from a number of quarters including the United Nations which said that the use of the death penalty for drug-related offences was incompatible with international human rights law.

Concern was also raised over medical reports on their intellectual capabilities which would render their executions illegal under Singapore laws as well as international treaties.

They were granted a last-minute respite by Singapore President Halimah Yacob on Feb 17.

LFL said Ravi, who had worked on their case alongside lawyers Violet Netto and Charles Yeo, had been at the forefront in defending rights in Singapore.

“Punitive sanctions against lawyers for executing their duties is an abhorrent act that goes against international human rights norms,” it said.

“A fair justice system which upholds the rule of law must include the protection of lawyers executing their duties on behalf of their clients. This principle is sacrosanct, and has been recognised in the United Nations Basic Principles of the Role of Lawyers adopted in 1990, which among others states that the governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.”

LFL also said that the Singapore Constitution recognises the right of individuals to be defended by a legal practitioner of their choice.

“The government of Singapore, however, has breached this right as shown by its persecution of Ravi that is calculated to deter or bar him from representing mentally disabled Malaysians Nagaenthran and Pausi in their legal challenges against their death sentence,” it said, referring to Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, whose case drew widespread attention including from Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, and British aviation magnate Richard Branson.

Urging the Singapore government and attorney-general to withdraw the committal proceedings against Ravi, it said authorities in the island republic must also cease “all further intimidation and persecution against him and uphold the rule of law in the process of its criminal justice system”.

“It is bad enough that Singapore has been targeting for death low-level drug mules like Nagaenthran and Pausi; it is worse when they are denied basic legal representation.”