Why beat up detainees?
IN 1976, I sat before the then Chief Justice of Malaya talking to him not about the judiciary, but the future of Malaysian hockey in the aftermath of the debacle at the Montreal Olympics. A few days later, a two-part series bylined “By Raja Azlan Shah as told to R. Nadeswaran” was published. On Wednesday, memories came flooding back on what now Sultan Azlan Shah said on his birthday investiture ceremony.
“The enforcement of the country’s laws should reflect transparency and fair practice by the judiciary. Those enforcing the law must show integrity and gain respect through their actions in order for the people to be confident in them. The people will have doubts in the legal institution and feel they have been unfairly treated if investigations and detainment procedures, prosecution and trial are questionable,” His Highness was quoted as saying.
Today marks one month to the day when the events and issues changed our views and perceptions of the institutions that His Highness touched on in his royal address. Co-incidentally, the 1976 interview took place over lunch in his chambers in the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka – the same area where the tumultuous event happened.
Why, I keep asking myself and everyone whom I think can give me a plausible answer, did seven policemen attack my colleague Radzi? What offence did he commit? Even if he did, he cannot be subjected to that kind of grievous harm that required hospitalisation for a fractured jaw.
Was he part of the demonstration? Was he wearing yellow? Was he part of the mob that broke the barrier? No – on all three counts. So, why was an on-duty journalist in civilian clothes with a government issued media tag around his shoulders set upon by the police?
That’s only the first part of the story. Last week, Radzi was asked to attend an identification parade with a view to pick out his assailants. It was an exercise in absurdity. Despite the investigation officer being told that Radzi’s assailants were young police officers, the police brought elderly officers to be identified. To add insult to injury, Radzi was asked to peep through the louvres on the window to identify his attackers. Is this how an identification parade is carried out these days?
Is this the kind of integrity of law enforcers that His Highness pointed out when he he talked about gaining respect through their actions in order for the people to be confident in them?
Let me not digress. I was a witness to at least half a dozen assaults of protesters AFTER they had been arrested. Call it safety or comfort zone but standing atop the balcony of the Royal Selangor Club, it gave me a bird’s-eye view of what was happening along Jalan Raja. As those arrested were brought to be processed, I saw policemen kicking and slapping them. Was it necessary? What could a citizen like me do except plead: Jangan pukul? As soon as I did this, four or five police cameras were trained on me.
Will I be demonised, pilloried and hounded like the dozens of lawyers who acted as observers of the Bar Council at the rally? Just like them, will I be accused of being part of the opposition or a sympathiser? Is there no place to tell exactly what I saw and express my disgust at such contemptuous actions? Do ordinary citizens have no recourse when they see an illegal act or omission? Don’t we as citizens owe a duty to protect one another?
The police can have a hundred and one reasons to detain anyone, but surely it is not their God-given right to harm anyone in the process. Why did they have to do that? Why did they beat up Radzi and a dozen other members of the media? Were they also viewed as opposition sympathisers instead of being seen as recorders of a Malaysian event?
These questions cannot be answered by you or me. It must be answered by the perpetrators of the assault and their bosses. Perhaps they should seriously take the sultan’s advice that people will have doubts in the legal institution and feel they have been unfairly treated if investigations and detainment procedures, prosecution and trial are questionable. Radzi’s identification parade saga is just one issue. Saying anything more will be overkill.
R. Nadeswaran is a mere messenger in this whole episode. Shooting him will not bring about a solution. He is editor (special and investigative reporting) at theSun and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org