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Malaysian lawmaker and lawyer Karpal Singh dies

April 17, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Veteran Malaysian opposition lawmaker and lawyer Karpal Singh, a tireless defender of human rights activists and death row prisoners who was himself detained without trial for more than a year under a security law, died early Thursday in a road accident. He was 73.

Singh, who used a wheelchair to get around after he was paralyzed in an earlier car accident in 2005, was just last month found guilty of sedition and fined for publicly questioning the decision of an influential state ruler to remove a minister. He was appealing that decision, which could have seen him suspended from parliament.

“If you slow down, you die. In this life, you have to fight,” Singh said after retaining his parliamentary seat in 2013 general elections with a higher majority.

A staunch opponent of the death penalty in Malaysia and elsewhere, he was regarded as Malaysia’s top criminal lawyer.

He led the defense in high-profile cases, including what was seen as politically motivated sodomy charges against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and drug trafficking charges involving foreign nationals.

“We’ve lost a colleague; an indefatigable fighter for justice; the legendary Karpal Singh,” Anwar said on his Facebook page.

Singh was travelling with four others when his car collided with a truck on a highway, district police chief Ng Kong Soon was quoted by the national Bernama news agency as saying. Singh and his personal assistant were killed immediately.

Prime Minister Najib Razak tweeted that he heard the news as he arrived on a visit to Ankara, Turkey, and conveyed his condolences to the family.

The news shocked Malaysians and triggered outpouring of tributes on social media.

Born June 28, 1940, Singh started his law firm in 1970 after graduating from the National University of Singapore.

In the same year, he joined the Democratic Action Party — of which he later became chairman — after deadly racial riots in 1970 prompted him to fight for racial unity.

Singh entered parliament in 1970 after winning the Jelutong seat, where his reputation as a fierce lawyer earned him the nickname the “Tiger of Jelutong”.

He defended many people on death row. In 1977, he persuaded the king to pardon a 14-year old sentenced to death for possession of a firearm. He defended Australian Kevin Barlow, the first foreigner executed for drug trafficking in Malaysia in 1986.

Singh, along with many other opposition politicians, was detained without trial under a harsh security law in October 1987 on allegations of inciting racial tensions. He was deemed a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International before he was released in January 1989.

Local media said Singh was headed to a court hearing in northern Penang state when the collision took place.

“A good lawyer dies in the saddle. The same applies equally to a politician. They should work to the last,” Singh said after 2013 polls.

He is survived by a wife, five children and grandchildren.

Update hourly