Mariam Mokhtar | April 18, 2014
Free Malaysia Today
It is now for us to band together and emulate his unshakable sense of duty and fair play, to resume his fight for a just and equal society.
Karpal SinghA plaque, presented by a grateful client, hangs on the wall of Karpal Singh’s office and it reads, ‘Noble and able defender of the defenceless’. The words were a source of inspiration for the Bukit Gelugor MP, whose untimely death in the early hours of Thursday morning, has shocked a nation.
“I will definitely return,” said Karpal to Penang’s Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, when they met recently, and he told Lim that he would vacate his post as the DAP chairman, pending his appeal against the charges of sedition.
A few days after making those remarks, Karpal perished in a car accident on the highway near Gua Tempurung. Malaysia has been robbed of one of its true patriots.
Karpal will return. His death has stirred our consciences. His “return” would be symbolic because it is now for us, to band together and continue his legacy, to resume his fight for a fair, just and equal society for all Malaysians.
Instead of having to thwart one Karpal Singh, the authorities will now have to fight off hundreds, if not thousands of Karpal Singhs, all with one aim – to continue the struggle for fairness, to fight injustice and to uphold the rule of law, without fear or favour. That is Karpal’s “return”.
With his unshakable sense of duty and fair play, Karpal was someone who was never afraid to speak his mind and talk about his values. He fought an uphill battle to make Malaysia a better place for everyone. The politician was a man of conviction, who was much loved, but he was aware that he had made many enemies and was loathed by several extremists.
The lawyer cum politician, whose dogged determination to dispense justice to everyone, rich or poor, Malaysian or foreigner, has touched many lives both at home and abroad. He has defended the poor, pro bono. When he defended four Singaporean Malays who were banned from wearing the tudung in a Singaporean school, the Singaporean government denied him a work visa, and banned him from practising in the island nation.
The Singaporean authorities accused him of meddling in Singapore affairs but he denied this and said that he was trying to defend the constitutional right of the four girls. He has maintained his principle of preserving and defending the Constitution throughout his lifetime.
During a very personal interview with CNN Talk Asia’s reporter Lorraine Hahn, believed to have taken place in 2002, Karpal stressed that he was more a lawyer, than a politician. He talked about his dedication and commitment when discharging his duties as a lawyer, his wife’s sacrifice, his children and his detention under the ISA.
He reflected on his life, and touched on the trial in which he defended Anwar Ibrahim in 1999, when Anwar believed he was being poisoned with arsenic by “those higher up”. Karpal also talked about being the first in the world to be “charged for sedition in the course of defending a client”.
In a moving tribute, he thanked his wife, Gurmit Kaur whom he met in a library in 1968, in Penang.
He said, “I must thank her for what I am today, and for my children. It is not easy to manage my offices when I was under detention, manage the home and take care of the children.”
‘Rest in Peace, Karpal’
Four of his five children have taken up law, and he believes that his incarceration, by former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad, may have some bearing upon their choice of profession.
When asked why his children had chosen to follow in his footsteps, as lawyers, he said: “They have seen me as a lawyer and in politics. None were forced into law. They are probably impressed by my principles, my dedication and my commitment to the law.”
He told his children: “Go by your conscience. Go by your commitment. Do the best you can for your client. Whether you win or not, is not the point. You’ve put in your best. As long as your conscience is clear, and that you gave of your best.”
He talked about his origins in politics, and his involvement in student politics when reading law in Singapore.
He said: “I started in politics because of the race riots of May 13, 1969. The country needed to become a united society, and I thought I could contribute to this, by helping a multiracial party to win power. The DAP, which I joined in 1970 was, and still is, the best party to meet this “end”.”
He explained why he read law in Singapore and his admission to the bar in Penang. He said: “My father wanted me to be a doctor, but I took up law as a challenge. I felt it was the right profession for me and I think I made the right choice.”
He talked about himself: “Yes, one has to be idealistic to achieve one’s aim.”
Reflecting on his past, he said: “I have no regrets and would start again the same as before. A lawyer has no free time. I am always thinking of the cases. You have to take it as it comes. I read a lot, most of it is legal text.”
When Hahn asked him when he would call it quits, he said, almost prophetically, “A good lawyer dies in the saddle. A lawyer has to keep going. I have to go on, physically and mentally.”
Today, in open defiance of the foolish political statement made by the National Fatwa Council, I would like to join all Malaysians and say “Karpal Singh, Rest in Peace. You have done your best, we will continue your work.”
To Karpal’s long-time aide who also died yesterday: “Michael Cornelius, Rest in Peace.”
We wish a speedy recovery for the injured, Karpal’s driver, Karpal’s son and also his maid.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Karpal Singh and Michael Cornelius, in this very difficult time.
Mariam Mokhtar is a FMT columnist