In the face of Injustice

In the face of Injustice

(A version of this was published in theSun on 13th July 2012).

Sometime last week, I attempted to get out of my lane whilst driving, turned on my indicator and stuck my nose out to move to the lane beside mine. The car behind braked suddenly, and the car behind crashed into him. Conventional traffic laws would state it is the fault of the car committing the accident as he was unable to stop in time and ought to have kept a safe distance anyway. However, after a two-hour negotiation, the last car demanded I pay RM1000 for his damages; I wanted to make a report at the police station which he refused to agree to.

I eventually paid a lower amount of RM400, as the person became more and more verbally aggressive, began hitting his car, and threatened to bang my car (in order to get my car insurance to pay for his damage), as well as get someone to “find” me if I did not pay up.

Throughout the negotiation, I felt intimidated and weak. At some point I felt guilty and that perhaps I should help contribute to the poor man’s repairs, perhaps due to his accusatory words. Upon reflection, it should have been brought to the police – this was a case of mild injustice that perhaps this institution could have helped address.

But surely any number of us would experience something similar on a daily basis, and feel angered whenever justice is not provided under those circumstances.

The 16th of July 2012 will mark the third death anniversary of the late Teoh Beng Hock, former political aide to the current Selangor government state executive councillor, Ean Yong. Interrogated as a witness at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) Selangor headquarters, his body was found on the roof of the 5th floor the day after, whilst he was in the care and custody of the MACC.

After a coroner’s inquest, and a subsequent Royal Commission of Inquiry, the case has come nowhere close to being resolved. On the government’s part at least, it is considered “case closed”, since the RCI concluded that he was driven to suicide as a result of “relentless, oppressive and unscrupulous” questioning by the MACC officers.

However, the three officers accused of having caused such trauma have not been charged under the Penal Code, and have instead been sent back to the MACC’s internal complaints committee to decide on some disciplinary action. (One of them has actually been promoted to head the MACC Negeri Sembilan office).

Over the last week or so, many events have taken place in commemoration of Teoh’s death anniversary, including and most uniquely, a play conducted completely in Malay by a group of young actors, Rumah Anak Teater. Held in the atmospheric settings of Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in Sentul, the play attracted a multi-ethnic group of young and old.

The play attracted a younger crowd that may not have been entirely familiar with the Teoh Beng Hock case previously. It also drove the point home that this was not necessarily a “Chinese” issue, but one that was relevant to all Malaysians, regardless of race, age or socio-economic disposition.

The riveting scene in which he falls from a height was done superbly in the play. I was particularly curious to see how the director would depict the moment of the “fall” – whether it would concur with the RCI’s findings of a suicide, or otherwise.

This scene presents three MACC officers crowding around the person acting as the persona of Teoh, and amidst some rough-handling and scuffling, he falls to his death. There were three possible options for Teoh’s death from the window of the 14th floor: suicide, intentional pushing, or an accidental ‘letting go’. The play does an excellent job of leaving the conclusion up to the audience to determine for themselves what truly happened at the end.

There are injustices that surround us constantly, and we scream righteous anger when we are wronged – in our personal and professional lives. But things change dramatically when a life – or worse, a death – is involved. Where in my car situation, I wanted desperately to turn to the higher authority of the police, in this case Teoh was already under the care of a higher authority that ought have exercised its due care and responsibility over him.

Numerous financial scandals have been brought to light this year. Making accusations for political mileage is to be expected, but should not be the real reason the rest of us must care and be concerned. Neither should we feel disgruntled in order that we, too, should get a share of the cake. In the final analysis, Malaysians should expect conditions, laws, and institutions that provide for a fair and just society, not a system that intimidates and acts as aggressor. If these institutions fail us too, then it is time for some serious reform.

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