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KQ: After Suhakam, All Eyes On Judiciary
By Kim Quek

1/9/2001 10:37 am Sat



The Inspector General of Police (IGP) has just casually dismissed an elaborate Suhakam (Human Rights Commission) Report detailing massive police brutality against peaceful Opposition demonstrators as unworthy of his attention.

To this iron-clad Report which involved grueling examination of numerous witnesses including many police officers over a period of 4 months, and which contains irrefutable and unchallenged evidences of the police abusing its power to function as instrument of oppression to brutalise legitimate political dissenters, all the IGP had to say was: 'I actually didn't pay much attention to the Report because it is biased and unrealistic, that is all.' He did not bother to give any detail to justify his view; neither did he bother to answer further questions from the reporters.

Such unmitigated arrogance from the top police officer of any democracy would have warranted his instant dismissal, and triggered off a political crisis that would have threatened the fall of not only the minister in charge of the police (in Malaysia, it is the Deputy Prime Minister cum Home Affairs Minister), but also the entire government. But in Malaysia, it is business as usual for every body. One can hardly read or hear any protest from the citizenry in the press or TV, all of which are under the thumbs of the ruling party and only carry news that are favourable to the powers that be. Not only the IGP, but also the entire ruling power will get away from this scandalous episode unscathed.

One may legitimately wonder: How did the IGP become so powerful that he could nonchalantly dismiss such a monumental report of police transgression of the Constitution with impunity?

The answer is simple. The IGP was merely echoing his political master the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had earlier brushed aside the Suhakam Report as western-influenced and unworthy of attention without giving any ground for his assertion. He even subtly sang praise of the Malaysian police conduct, which he considered as gentle when compared to recent shooting of rioters by Italian police. He went to the extent of hinting that perhaps the Malaysian police should also be empowered to do likewise.

Of course, the Prime Minister had conveniently forgotten to mention that the Italian police were dealing with demonstrators who were out to physically sabotage an important international conference. The demonstrators rioted with burning of cars, smashing of shops, looting and violent attacks on the police. Whereas in the Malaysian case, the 'demonstrators' were traveling to a private compound to attend a celebration in cultural songs and dances, in family outing style, when they were intercepted and beaten up by the riot squad. The police smashed cars, beat up travelers, shot teargas canisters at individuals, arrested and tortured participants.

That the Prime Minister thought it fit to draw a parallel between these two opposing cases indicates the horrible state of mind he is in. Apart from demonstrating a total absence of logic in his thinking, it exhibits in him a disturbing mental state of twisted justice and senseless cruelty. It is bad enough if he is just a commoner. But for a leader who wields such absolute autocratic power as Mahathir does, it spells disaster for the Nation.

As for those who had earlier been elated by this Suhakam Report as rays of hope for the revival of human rights in this Country, the IGP's latest verdict on the Report must have come as a disheartening blow. Suhakam is already a toothless tiger by the nature of its legislation, being circumscribed to define human rights within the ambit of the existing set of repressive laws and possesses no prosecuting powers to compel evidence and punish offenders. With these latest slights from the PM and IGP, Suhakam's role as guardian of human rights is further downgraded to near nonentity. Though Suhakam is powerless to defend human rights (through no fault of its), the Nation should nevertheless record its appreciation of the honourable and conscientious manner with which Suhakam has discharged its duties.

Facing such flagrant display of contempt for the laws by the top leader and the top law enforcer of the Country respectively, one cannot help but be filled with a sense of futility. The futility of constitutional struggles to effect a change of government in a country with repressive legislations, ruled by a mentally unbalanced despot whose perverted sense of justice and contempt of the laws have seeped down and corrupted almost all the democratic institutions, making them partisan players in illegally perpetuating the political power of the ruling party. In such an environment where the citizens are deprived of the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and where elections are reduced to a farce through the ruling party's monopolistic abuse of the mass media and the government machineries, the ruling party can virtually rule in perpetuity until it self-destructs.

In the midst of this hopeless state, one beacon of light is visible. And it is the Judiciary under the new Chief Justice. There have been signs of re-assertion of judicial independence recently in the delivery of several judgments of high judicial standards, though not to the liking of the Executive.

All eyes are therefore focused on the Federal Court (the highest court) which sits in September to hear an appeal by reformasi activists against a High Court ruling validating their detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA). 10 ISA detainees had earlier exposed in sworn affidavits that the IGP had lied when he stated the ground of arrests was the detainees'involvement in amassing weapons for an armed rebellion.

The outcome of that hearing may indicate whether the Judiciary is still on course to full restoration of judiciary integrity, and that may decide whether there is still hope to effect a change of government in this Country through constitutional means.

Kim Quek.