Gentle in demeanour but outspoken in court and parliament: Karpal Singh.

Gentle in demeanour but outspoken in court and parliament: Karpal Singh. Photo: John Woudstra

Karpal Singh, a veteran Malaysian opposition leader and lawyer who led campaigns against the death penalty, has been killed in a car accident. He was 73.

In 1986 Mr Karpal represented Australian heroin traffickers Brian Chambers and Kevin Barlow before they were hanged in Kuala Lumpur’s Pudu jail.

Asked how he felt immediately after the hangings, Mr Karpal replied: “Pathetic, that it should have come to this.”

Mr Karpal was killed along with a long-time assistant when a vehicle he was travelling in collided with a truck in Malaysia’s northern state of Perak early Thursday.

For years Mr Karpal - who was born in Penang to an Indian Punjabi immigrant father - led the opposition Democratic Action Party. He also defended opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in his sodomy trials.

In February he was convicted of sedition in a ruling he denounced as “political intimidation” by the governing parties.

Gentle in demeanour but outspoken in court and Parliament, Mr Karpal was detained for more than a year in 1987 under a crackdown on opposition figures.

A staunch opponent of the death penalty, Mr Karpal took up numerous high-profile cases in Malaysia that gained him international fame.

He was wheelchair-bound following a 2005 road accident.