Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail today dropped the attempted murder charge against the 31 individuals - dubbed the Hindraf 31 - who had allegedly taken part in an illegal assembly and were also accused of causing severe injury to a policeman at the Batu Caves temple on Nov 25.
He also withdrew all charges against six others - five of them students - while the remaining 25 pleaded guilty to charges including illegal assembly and causing mischief.
Shah Alam Sessions Court judge Nursinah Adzmi fixed bail at RM500, with one surety each, until she delivers sentence on Dec 27. They face up to five years in prison or a fine, or both, when they are sentenced next week.
Approached to comment on why the charges were dropped, Abdul Gani said it was difficult to pinpoint exactly who threw the brick that had injured officer Dadi Abdul Rani.
“I could be very strict but not this is not the time. This is not a goodwill gesture (to them). This is the fairest thing to do,” he said briefly.
He also said the 31 had written to him, disassociating themselves from the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) - which had organised the rally in Kuala Lumpur - and undertook to not participate in an illegal assembly again.
The Hindraf rally saw 30,000 disgruntled Indians taking to the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Police had used chemical-laced water and tear gas to disperse them.
Family members of the accused had initially gathered at the Shah Alam High Court as early as 9am, to hear the outcome of a bail revision hearing that had been postponed last Thursday.
Abdul Gani told justice Zaharah Ibrahim that lawyers for the accused had decided not to proceed with the revision, and the matter reverted to the Sessions Court.
The crowd of close to 150 then packed into Sessions judge Azimah Omar’s court and waited for an hour before they were informed that the judge was on leave.
The matter was transferred to Nursinah’s court. The crowd almost brought proceedings to a halt in the courtroom, while police tried to restore order.
With hardly any room to move, family members remained standing to catch a glimpse of the accused when they were brought into court. Relatives, who were in tears, managed to embrace some of them.
When the court adjourned, the crowd cheered as the 31 were released. Many family members were seen thanking lead defence counsel, GK Ganesan.
Ganesan (right) told Malaysiakini that he was happy with the AG’s decision.
“The AG showed extreme compassion and understanding. The parents of the accused are all very grateful that the charges have been withdrawn,” he said.
He also affirmed that he had made representations for plea bargaining to the AG on behalf of his clients last Thursday, to have the attempted murder charge withdrawn.
“I wrote to the AG to state that my clients are sincerely remorseful and deeply regret the event. All they want to do is to go back to work and be reconciled with their families,” he added.
Another lawyer for the accused, A Sivanesan (left), ticked off MIC for seeking to take credit in the dropping of the attemped murder charges.
"(MIC leader S) Samy Vellu was misleading to make such statements. The representation was made by the lawyers, not MIC," he said.
S Ramash Kumar, 22, one of the students who was discharged, described his time in Sungai Buloh prison as “hell”.
“The treatment was bad, the food was bad. I just want to thank all the Indians for their support,” said the soft-spoken first-year civil engineering student of the Universiti Industri Selangor.
Vasanta Rao, a 19-year old student at a teacher's training college, was one of the five released unconditionally.
"I thank the government. I only went to the temple ... for prayers that day and was arrested. I'm now very happy to be free," he told reporters.
PM urged AG to drop charges
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had earlier urged Abdul Gani to drop the murder attempt charges after appeals by family members.
But Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang (right), who was present in court today, called for all the charges to be withdrawn.
"Although I welcome the dropping of the attempted murder charge against the 31, I'm disgusted that the attorney-general had not withdrawn all the charges against the other 26," he told AFP.
Abdullah said those detained were misled by ethnic Indian rights group Hindraf, who had organised the Nov 25 rally that drew at least 30,000 people to the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
Abdul Gani said most of the 31 accused had submitted affidavits saying they did not support Hindraf and many vowed not to take part in future illegal assemblies.