Judge Mohamad Apandi Ali had initially fixed Oct 28 to 30 to hear her appeal but this morning made his surprise decision to acquit Irene, an activist and a Parti Keadilan Supreme Council member, on a charge of publishing false news on ill-treatment and abuse of migrant workers after a 13-year court battle.
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The High Court judge made the decision after deputy public prosecutor Shamsul Sulaiman said that the prosecution had decided not to fight the appeal.
"In the light of the prosecution not opposing the appeal by the appellant, there is no necessity to deliberate on the appeal further," said Mohamad Apandi, drawing cheers and applause from Fernandez's family and friends who were gathered at the court as early as 9am.
"I hereby reverse the findings and sentence, and acquit and discharge the appellant. Conviction and sentence is hereby set aside," said the judge.
Prior to the judgment, the lawyers had met with justice Mohamad Apandi in chambers for about an hour. The court resumed open hearing at 11.30am and soon after announced the verdict.
Shamsul said that the prosecution had decided to not pursue the appeal as there were "recently discovered systemic error which are manifested in the notes of proceeding” as well as “the peculiar set of circumstances of this appeal".
DPP: AG decided to drop appeal
Shamsul added that the government’s decision to drop the appeal was made by attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail.
The Tenaganita executive director's was put off time and again after statements of important prosecution witnesses were found to be missing.
On Aug 5, the case was brought to a standstill when Fernandez was told a computer virus had wiped out a portion of a specific volume of notes required for the trial.
Two months later, Fernandez's lawyer M Puravalen said that the 8,988 pages of handwritten and typed notes amounting to a total of eight volumes of documents were "incomprehensible”.
Judge Mohamad Apandi had subsequently set today to hear arguments on the issue.
Fernandez’s 13-year ordeal began in 1995 when she exposed the poor conditions at immigration detention centres in a memorandum entitled 'Abuse, Torture and Dehumanised Conditions of Migrant Workers in Detention Centres'.
She alleged incidences of torture as well as deaths of illegal immigrants who were detained in the camps.
Fernandez was arrested and charged a year later under Section 8A (1) of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
Her case, which became the longest-running criminal trial in Malaysian history, ended in 2003 with the court finding her guilty and slapped her with a 12-month imprisonment.
'Light at the end of the tunnel'
Met outside court, 62-year-old Fernandez appeared jubilant after the court decision, saying that she could at last see "light at the end of the tunnel".
"(I am) relieved that truth and justice had prevailed and the conviction has been set aside but it also tells us that the courts have to be more systematic in what they do so that the technical errors do not surface."Still, the main point is I am free now after 13 years of struggle...," said Fernandez, who vowed to continue her fight to support migrant workers.