KUALA LUMPUR, 18 Sept 2008: Twenty-seven people were fined RM1,000 in default three weeks jail each by the Sessions Court here today after they pleaded guilty to failing to disperse during an illegal assembly organised by the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) in the city centre last year.
They committed the offence near the MIDF building near Jalan Tun Razak, Jalan Ampang junction and Ampang LRT station between 6am and noon on 25 Nov 2007.
The supporters, mostly factory and odd-job workers aged between 20 and 60, changed their pleas to guilty after their lead counsel from the Kuala Lumpur Legal Aid Bureau, Datuk N Sivananthan, sent a representation to the Attorney-General’s office on Tuesday.
Judge Akhtar Tahir, in sentencing them, said that even though they only changed their plea after the prosecution had called 12 witnesses, the court took into consideration the fact that their action had saved the court substantial time and cost.
He also took into account the mitigating and aggravating factors, he said.
He said the main mitigating factors were that they had shown remorse for their acts and no violence was involved.
He also took into consideration that they were first offenders and that their presence in the court in the last two weeks during the trial itself was a punishment as some of them had lost their jobs.
"However, no matter how peaceful any demonstration is claimed to be, it disrupts public life and endangers public property.
"In my opinion, in this case imprisonment is unnecessary. However, the fine has to be substantial and commensurate with their action to teach them a lesson where the punishment is not just a slap on the wrist," said Akhtar.
In mitigation, Sivananthan said the group was there just to submit a petition to the British High Commission and had no motive to create any problem or act of violence.
"They agreed that they had failed to disperse when ordered by police but their action did not pose any danger to the public and they did not commit any crime," he said.
Spending three nights under remand itself was a bitter experience and served as a punishment for them, he said.
Deputy public prosecutor Amir Nasruddin said that even though most of them were first offenders the court should take public interest into consideration as their action had caused a disturbance to road users.
"They only changed their plea after the prosecution had called 12 witnesses and the court should impose a deterrent sentence against them as a lesson for others," he said.
A total of 54 people were charged with the offence but the prosecution on 25 April dropped the charge against a 73-year-old man on account of his age.
Akhtar fixed 23 Sept for continued hearing against the other 26 who had claimed trial.
Counsel Joshua T Sambanthan and G K Ganesan also acted for the group. – Bernama