DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Eight Filipinos, seven of them forced to wear straightjackets, remained silent and entered no plea when they were arraigned in a court in Sabah’s Tawau district on charges of terrorism and rebellion in connection with the occupation last month of a village in Lahad Datu by followers of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III of Sulu, two Malaysian radio stations reported Thursday.
A private Sabah-based radio station as well was the state-run Radio 24 said none of the accused, aged between 17 and 66, entered pleas when the charges were read in Bajau and Tausug by an interpreter before High Court Judge P. Ravinthran.
The private radio reported that no lawyer was present to assist the eight Filipinos during arraignment. The Bar Council of Malaysia said earlier it was interested in providing the accused its services.
“They were placed under tight security throughout the proceedings and seven of them were in straight jackets,” a reporter of the radio station said.
The terrorism and rebellion charges stemmed from the bloody aftermath of the “homecoming” of Kiram’s so-called “royal army” in Sabah. The charges were initially filed in the Magistrate’s Court in Labuan on Wednesday, where the accused were also arraigned. But the case was subsequently transferred to the High Court in Tawau, reported Radio 24, which is operated by the state-run Berita Nasional Malaysia or Bernama. It did not say who ordered the transfer or why.
Sixty-two suspected Sulu gunmen and 10 Malaysian soldiers and policemen had been killed since March 5, when the Kuala Lumpur government decided to launch an assault on what it called a group of “terrorists,” led by Kiram’s younger brother, Agbimuddin Kiram.
The eight accused Filipinos were among 107 suspected Sulu gunmen or suspected local supporters of the Kirams who were arrested by Malaysian security forces in sweeps in the districts of Lahad Datu, Tawau, Kunak, Sandakan and Semporna.
Radio 24 confirmed that as in Wednesday’s arraignment, none of the accused entered any plea.
Radio 24 said Malaysian Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail led prosecution.
Like the Sabah-based radio station, Radio 24 said no lawyer assisted the accused during both proceedings.
Radio 24 reported the judge as ordering the attrorney general to determine whether defense lawyers will be “appointed by the Bar Council of Malaysia, the Philippine government or the accused themselves.”