The Storm and The Rainbow

A Reformasi Diary by Sabri Zain

Law and justice March 16th, 1999

"Justice without law is impotent. Law without justice is tyranny"
- Pascal from ‘Pensees’

"Why are you here?" PRM Secretary General Dr Sanusi Osman asked the packed audience at the DAP Forum on Law and Justice. "We are here because we love justice. We know our country has laws - but we also know these laws do not guarantee justice."

It was a relevant point to make that particular night. After 72 torturous days, the Anwar Ibrahim trial finally sputtered to its closing days when the defence rested its case the day before. It was now a good time for Malaysians to look at the events over those 72 days - and to see just how much our laws and our legal system did guarantee justice.

Our Prime Minister most certainly feels that justice has been done. Dr Sanusi commented on Dr Mahathir’s recent television interview where he expressed surprise at accusations that Anwar did not receive a fair trial. "Our Prime Minister expressed ‘shock’ that the trial lasted up to 72 days. Is it any wonder that the trial took so long, when everyone had to wait for that stained mattress to be brought in and out, in and out, day after day?! And what happened at the end? More than halfway into the trial, the mattress is made ‘irrelevant’!"

Dr Sanusi lamented the fact that, instead of protecting justice and freedom, our laws were now being used to stifle justice and freedom .. "like hantu (ghosts) that are just waiting to frighten and seize those who speak out against Mahathir." "Mahathir bela hantu!" ("Mahathir keeps ghosts!") cried someone from the audience, to peals of laughter from the audience.

He gave as an example the Internal Security Act or ISA, which he said now stood for "Ikut Suka Aku"! (Follow my wishes!) "Where it was first created just to detain communists, it is now used against just about anyone they wished."

Dr Sanusi also noted how the ISA now had acquired new, creative uses. "Anwar was arrested under ordinary criminal laws, which meant that he would have needed to be brought before a magistrate soon. But because of his beating and his famous black-eye, they slapped the ISA on him so he did not have to be brought before a court of law until his wounds had healed. The ISA is now used to heal black eyes!"

Dr Sanusi gave as another example the Police Act, which considers a grouping of more than four people to be an illegal assembly. "Hundreds of young people who were just exercising their right under the highest law of the land, the Constitution, to assemble peacefully were dragged off the streets, beaten, arrested and are now under trial."

"The authorities say that these assemblies disrupted businesses on the streets and were not peaceful. They say they have no problems against peaceful demonstrations. If that is true, then I challenge them: Give us Independence Square! Give us the Commonwealth Games Stadium!" The packed banquet hall roared in approval.

Dr Sanusi complained that despite the willingness of opposition parties and NGOs to hire the Stadium for mass rallies, they had always been refused permission because the stadium was being ‘repaired’! "It’s really surprising that one of the most expensive, advanced, modern international stadiums in the world always ‘breaks down’ and is in need of repair each time we want to hold a rally there!"

It was also surprising that such facilities were miraculously in good working order just days later when the ruling coalition’s Malaysian Chinese Association wanted to hold Mahathir-worshipping events!

Tuan Haji Subky Latif from PAS lamented the fact that, despite the country having seven to eight law faculties in its universities, and having trained thousands of lawyers and judges, despite all the advances in education and development, we find ourselves crippled in a crisis in the rule of law. "How low are the standards and the dignity of our judiciary, how low they are in the eyes of the people."

Social activist Dr Chandra Muzaffar focused on the recent Sabah elections and how the principles of law and justice had been abused there. "People forget that the ruling National Front coalition must contest as a political party - nothing else. But it used all the machinery of a ruling government to ensure its victory."

"National Front politicians used government helicopters to campaign all over the state. Government departments just became tools to be used by National Front parties. Government funds - the people’s money - were being committed so politicians could make election promises of development projects."

He contrasted this with the court case in 1975, when Indian Prime Minister Indra Gandhi was sentenced by the High Court and removed from her parliamentary seat for asking a low-ranking government official to provide her with a microphone and stage for a political rally. "Even though she was the country’s Prime Minister, the law stated that, as a politician, she did not have any right to use the government machinery for her own political ends."

Dr Chandra also cited an incident following the 1959 State Elections in newly-independent Malaya. "The Alliance had lost Kelantan and Terengganu in those elections. Tunku Abdul Rahman temporarily resigned as Prime Minister and appointed Tun Abdul Razak as Prime Minister, so that he could strengthen and campaign for his party in Kelantan and Terengganu for the coming parliamentary elections. He did not want to abuse government facilities and his position as Prime Minister for his party. Whatever his weaknesses, the Tunku was a gentleman and acted on principle."

Dr Chandra remarked that, in contrast, the cheap publicity and gimmicks sought by current National Front politicians sometimes reached ridiculous heights during election campaigns. "Projects that had been officiated before were officiated for a second time! Buildings which had already been officially opened were given a new paint job and officially opened again! There is the famous case in Penang where a Barisan politician even resorted to officiating public toilets!"

He also touched on the role of the media. "The local media is shamelessly used as just another party tool. The media coverage is humiliating and it humiliates our country. They apparently have no shame at all in being so blatantly one-sided."

Dr Chandra wondered if Barisan politicians simply did not understand democratic principles or were just power-mad. "Gila kuasa!" ("Power mad!") shouted the audience in response, to an amused Dr Chandra. He then coined a new term for the phenomenon – ‘Viagra politics’. "Once they’re up, they refuse to come down!"

This feudal system of politics, he said, had resulted in our leaders being appointed not because of their abilities, but because of their blind loyalty to Mahathir. "They have no values or qualities or standards, but were appointed because they are good at praising, worshipping and idolising."

DAP’s Karpal Singh touched on what has perhaps been the most dramatic abuse of the law and justice to date over the past few months - the beating of Anwar Ibrahim while in police custody. He questioned Rahim Noor’s insistence that he was provoked by Anwar calling him a ‘Bapak Anjing’ (‘father of dogs’). "How could Anwar know it was him? Anwar was blindfolded. The Chief of Police did not speak. If Anwar could not see or hear the him, there is only one other way Anwar could have known for certain it was a ‘father of dogs’ - from his smell!"

He appealed to the Royal Commission investigating the beating to recommend that Rahim Noor be charged - for attempted murder. "Because if those two officers had not pushed and dragged Rahim Noor out of that cell, Anwar Ibrahim would not be in this world today."

Fortunately, Anwar Ibrahim is still in this world today. And while his corruption trial is nearly over and his conviction is almost certain, many other trials loom in the near future. Not just the sodomy trial, not just Anwar’s suits against the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, the former Chief of Police, and many others in the government. A higher Court continues to try them, the highest ‘court’ of law and justice in the land - the Court of public opinion, the People’s Court.

For it is Mahathir and those who continue to blindly defend him who are really on trial - not Anwar Ibrahim. And judgement will be delivered swiftly on the ballot box. I, personally, would vote ‘guilty as charged’.