Leading Malaysian opposition figure Karpal Singh dies in road accident

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 April, 2014, 10:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 April, 2014, 12:17am

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim led tributes yesterday for Karpal Singh, a leading Malaysian politician and lawyer, after his death in a car crash.

Singh, 73, who acted in some of the country's highest-profile cases including the politically charged sodomy case against Anwar, was killed along with a longtime assistant when his vehicle and a truck collided on a highway in the northern state of Perak.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, on a trip to Turkey, also paid tributes to Singh. "In politics he was an implacable leader; in law, a committed advocate," he said.

Anwar said the news of Singh's death came "like a lightning bolt".

In politics he was an implacable leader; in law, a committed advocate

"Just last evening, I had had a lengthy chat with him," the opposition leader said, expressing "profound sadness".

He called Singh - left wheelchair-bound after a car crash in 2005 - "an inspiring symbol for the struggle against oppression and injustice".

The news shocked Malaysians and triggered outpouring of tributes on social media. Amnesty International mourned "the loss of an important voice in the struggle for justice and human rights in Malaysia".

First elected to parliament in 1978, Singh was detained without trial in 1987 for more than a year under a crackdown on opposition figures. Regarded as Malaysia's top criminal lawyer, he went on to defend Anwar, who was ousted in 1998 from the top ranks of the authoritarian Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition that still rules Malaysia.

After losing a power struggle, Anwar was convicted on sodomy and corruption charges widely viewed as politically motivated. He spent six years in jail.

Singh again defended Anwar against new sodomy charges brought in 2008. Anwar was acquitted in 2012 but that decision was overturned by a higher court in March in a ruling criticised by rights groups and the US.

Singh was himself convicted in February. He was found guilty of sedition in a ruling he denounced as "political intimidation" by the National Front government.

The case stemmed from comments in 2009 that were deemed to have questioned the actions of Perak's ceremonial Islamic sultan. It is illegal to insult Malaysia's nine state sultans.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Associated Press