Sedition defendant convicted, sentenced in absentia

Fadley Faisal

A local man who sought refuge in Canada was convicted of sedition in the Magistrate’s Court yesterday, and sentenced in absentia to 18 months’ imprisonment.

Shahiransheriffudin bin Shahrani Muhammad was a government employee charged with sedition, who absconded just before the trial was about to come to a judgement.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Muhd Qamarul Affyian bin Abdul Rahman, the trial prosecutor, had earlier made an application in the High Court presided by Chief Justice Dato Seri Paduka Steven Chong, who then allowed for the trial Magistrate to deliver judgement in the defendant’s absentia.

Shahiransheriffudin was tried on a charge under Chapter 24 of the Sedition Act, for inflammatory comments regarding the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Halal Certification policy.

The charge under Section 4 (1) (c) of the Sedition Act alleges that he had made a seditious post on his personal Facebook page on July 16, 2017.

Senior Magistrate Lailatul Zubaidah binti Haji Mohd Hussain, in delivering her judgement, said that the defendant’s defence about the comments he posted on Facebook being merely an angry rant was nothing more than a bare denial of the seditious nature of the comments.

The court, disbelieving the defendant’s testimony during trial, found that his acts were procured from attending a talk organised by DARe (Darussalam Enterprise) about the Halal Licensing guidelines, where he would have the opportunity to present his grievances and gain information before he went on to post the comments.

“If the defendant claims to have been angered by the misreporting of the article – and in his statement, he claims he was angry at the Bulletin for not explaining the process very well – he would have directed his gripe at the Bulletin and not the Ministry of Religious Affairs, or at least have mentioned the Bulletin along with the ministry in the posting,” the court decided, among other facts found in the case leading up to deciding on the conviction.

On findings of the acts being established as seditious, the court cited a number of case laws, as well as guidelines on the country’s frameworks of the Malay Islamic Monarchy (MIB).

The court also extended its reference in deciding to establish the defendant’s acts as seditious, from an excerpt of a titah by His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, stating that “we shall continue to adhere to the principles of the MIB, as a source of ethics and culture of the people of Brunei, which has made them the distinguished honour of being a courteous and loyal nation.”

Senior Magistrate Lailatul Zubaidah went on to say, “I reject the notion that such comments can only amount to an angry rant; and it is my finding that, bearing in mind the limits placed on free speech and expression, I entertain no doubt that the posting has gone beyond what is sanctioned by law.”

This was decided by the Court, bearing in mind that the monarch is also the Head of Religion in the country – a fact that is known, or ought to be known, by each and every one of His Majesty’s subjects.

On deciding the 18 months’ custodial sentence, the Senior Magistrate said, “Although the Prosecution has submitted that they seek a low custodial sentence or the imposition of a high fine in sentence, after careful consideration of the facts of the present case, including the factors highlighted above, giving due consideration to the authorities mentioned, and in particular the aggravating factors, I see no reason to depart from a Brunei case precedent which has already set the tariff for a 12 month custodial sentence following a guilty plea.”

Defense counsel Pengiran Khairul Nizam bin Pengiran Haji Mohd Yassin represented the defendant throughout the case.