Should the King pardon Najib?

Last month, our King, the DYMM Yang diPertuan Agung, invited former Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak to a buka puasa (breaking of the fast) dinner at Istana Negara, the national palace.

Najib is a convicted criminal. He hired one of the best criminal lawyers in Malaysia to mount his defence in the courts. Despite that, after an extensive hearing, a High Court judge found him guilty. He appealed. A panel of three Court of Appeal judges upheld the High Court’s decision.

Najib was found guilty of seven offences including abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering connected with him illegally receiving RM42million from SRC International, a unit of 1MDB.

The Court of Appeal judge who read the decision of that court said Najib was a national embarrassment.

Judges of the High Court and higher courts are appointed by the King, as stipulated in the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

Since four judges have found Najib guilty, why did the palace invite him? What message is the palace sending?

It’s important to remember that pardon is sometimes necessary in order for a nation to move on – to focus on more important things by avoiding the potential for civil unrest. “We need to move on” was the logic applied by President Gerald Ford in the USA when he pardoned Richard Nixon.

Perhaps the King invited Najib to see what the reaction of the public would be if Najib should ask him for a pardon – though Najib claims he’s innocent. He’s even sworn on the Quran, the holy book of Muslims. (As if the judges who convicted him are not Muslims.)

Is there a “Christian position” on this matter? Do Christians have an obligation to advice the King, who is not a Christian? Would Christian advice to the King be different if he were a Christian?

I’m not aware of any Malaysian leader of any faith system who has commented on this matter. I’m not a leader in my own faith tradition. Yet, it seems to me important that we at least consider the question:

What advice should a Christian give to the King as he considers whether or not to exercise his constitutional right to pardon Najib?

I think the answer is staring us in the face. Justice must be seen to be done, without fear or favour:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).

There is a system in place to ensure that justice is seen to be done. That system is the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system (1) Only permits a person to be charged with pre-defined offences. (2) Requires a trial to be conducted, in a prescribed way. (3) Requires a properly appointed judge. (4) Allows the accused to engage a lawyer to defend him. (5) Limits the evidence which may be admitted. (6) Defines the standard of proof. (7) Bars preferential treatment. (8) Limits the punishment which may be handed down.

The system has spoken. Najib is guilty. The content of the written decision of the Court of Appeal makes it highly unlikely that Najib’s appeal to the Federal Court will succeed. The system has spoken. Najib is guilty.

There can be no pardon if Najib doesn’t admit guilt. If he does admit guilt, he will, by the same act, admit to having falsely sworn on the Quran.

If the King should pardon Najib of the offences for which he has been found guilty by the criminal justice system, the King will be implicitly pardoning him for falsely swearing on the Quran – for he is the head of Islam in the places where Najib committed his offences.

I think pardoning Najib would greatly dilute the standing of the King.

If Najib were a Christian like me, I would urge him to admit his crimes and pay the penalty handed down to him by the criminal justice system.

This is my personal opinion and in no way represents the opinion of Bangsar Lutheran Church or of the Lutheran Church of Malaysia.

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