Human Rights Watch mourns the loss of Karpal Singh, a towering fighter for justice and human rights in Malaysia and in all of Asia.
He died in the early morning of 17 April 2014 in an automobile accident as he was travelling between Kuala Lumpur and Penang to attend a court hearing. He was 73 years old.
“Karpal Singh used his keen mind, legal training, and passion for justice to doggedly promote respect for human rights in Malaysia,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “For decades, he was an unyielding force for the rights of all.”
Known as the “Tiger of Jelutong”, a town he once represented in parliament, Karpal’s tenacity repeatedly landed him in trouble with the authorities. In October 1987, he was detained without trial, along with other opposition lawmakers and political leaders, under the infamous Internal Security Act for allegedly inciting racial dissension. He was released in 1989, and the Internal Security Act has since been revoked.
In 1998, he was denigrated for defending the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, during his first sodomy trial, and again for representing Anwar in a second politically motivated sodomy case.
Karpal Singh’s involvement in opposition politics and his public criticism of the government came at great personal cost. At the time of his death, he was facing a prison term and a fine for alleged sedition for publicly asserting in February 2009 that the decisions of a hereditary ruler could be questioned in court.
The court had originally thrown out the charge, but the government brought an appeal that resulted in a fine sufficiently high to force his disqualification from parliament. Just before Karpal’s death, the attorney general applied for a prison term to accompany the fine.