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‘Justice delayed is justice denied’

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The government must stand resolute – and not cave in to pressure – by always adhering to justice, freedom, solidarity and equality, writes Henry Loh.

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has claimed he is innocent of all the corruption charges laid against him, has nevertheless through his legal team been working hard to delay the start of his trials.

One would have thought he would be eager to have his day in court to prove his innocence.

But as the Malay idiom goes “cakap tak serupa bikin”. Najib’s legal team tried at the very last minute to delay the start of the SRC International Sdn Bhd trial.

Najib has been charged with laundering RM42m from SRC into his private bank account. He faces three counts of criminal breach of trust, three counts of money-laundering and one count of abuse of power.

The delaying tactic failed and the first of many trials that Najib has to face got underway with one witness being called. This trial is set to resume on 15 April, so stay tuned…

Available records indicate that Najib Razak is expected to face a total of 42 charges in court mainly linked to the 1MDB financial scandal. Judging by his external demeanor, the former prime minister appears unfazed and pretty much unaffected by all his upcoming legal battles in courts.

Instead Najib has been making many public appearances – campaigning for Umno-Barisan Nasional candidates at by-elections. The former prime minister has lapped up the support from some Malaysians who promote the “Malu apa bossku” campaign.

The campaign seems to have emboldened him even further, and he continues to lash out at the Pakatan Harapan government at every opportunity he gets.

It seems also that some of his diehard supporters are just as emboldened and are prepared to show-off their ‘hooliganism‘ for all to see. Their response to a peaceful protest held by several university students against Najib was to forcefully remove a poster with a caricature image of him as a clown. The ‘thugs’ then went on to physically manhandle the peaceful demonstrators.

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The thuggish behaviour by these Najib supporters basically indicate their lack of maturity in handling dissenting views and their belief that might is right.

Under such circumstances, it would be difficult to expect these Najib cronies to understand Malaysians’ constitutional right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Credit should be given to the protesting university students who did not retaliate with violence on their part or else the situation could have really got out of hand.

Perhaps what is even more disturbing and disappointing is that police personnel who were suppose to keep the peace did not intervene more quickly to quell the tense situation.

Meanwhile at least one section of the police force will not be too pleased with the findings and conclusion of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) inquiry into the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh and activist Amri Che Mat.

Suhakam commissioner Mah Weng Kwai, who led the inquiry, was quoted as saying, “[T]he panel is of the view that the ‘enforced disappearance’ of Koh and Amri was carried out by agents of the state, mainly the Special Branch, Bukit Aman.”

In light of the Suhakam findings, Aliran issued a statement urging the government to set up an independent taskforce to probe the case with the aim of finding out what exactly happened to those who disappeared and who exactly was directly and indirectly responsible.

In the statement, we also urged taskforce investigators to be mindful of the possible claim of “plausible deniability” on the part of senior officers in the chain of command.

The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) in their statement stressed the need for the police force to get rid of the deeply ingrained culture of impunity reinforced by decades of corruption and abuse of power.

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Suhakam‘s findings from the inquiry reinforce the view that our country needs an oversight body such as an independent police complaints and misconduct commission (IPCMC).

The IPCMC, had it been formed, would have been the ideal body to carry out an independent investigation into the alleged involvement of the Special Branch in the enforced disappearances of Koh and Amri.

Calls to establish up the recommended IPCMC date back to 2004, and Aliran and other civil society organisations have consistently called on the powers that be to set it up quickly. The Pakatan Harapan election manifesto also includes a promise to set up the IPCMC.

Civil society groups and indeed the Rakyat have a right to demand that the government be committed to its reform agenda and fulfil its election promise to set up the commission. The government must also ensure the oversight’s body full independence and that it is run by people of the highest integrity.

Next month, on 9 May, the Pakatan Harapan government will achieve a small milestone: the completion of its first full year in power. After 60-plus years of Barisan Nasional rule. the Rakyat who clamoured for change – and finally achieved it – should, to be fair, give the fledgling government more time to implement the reform agenda

The government, however, should understand the people’s concern and trepidation as they have witnessed U-turns by the government over important decisions.

First came the government’s decision not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination despite earlier having committed itself to doing so.

More recently, certain quarters with personal vested interests were able to pressure the government to withdraw its decision to ratify the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court. The government’s reason for the U-turn was to avoid “political confusion”.

Prominent constitutional expert Shad Saleem Faruqi, an emeritus professor, pointed out that the argument that the Rome Statute would affect the immunity and sovereignty of the Malay rulers and the Yang DiPertuan Agong was baseless.

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He argued that those who whipped up dissatisfaction against the government for ratifying the Rome statute were morally bankrupt as the international treaty was aimed at countering genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

Civil society groups including Aliran have come together urging the government to reconsider its decision to withdraw from the ICC. Their statement condemns attempts by anyone to use this issue to try and unseat a democratically elected government and prime minister using undemocratic means.

Without doubt the government will face many challenges and even opposition in carrying out the reform agenda. But it must stand resolute – and not cave in to pressure – by being loyal to the principles of good governance, always adhering to justice, freedom, solidarity and equality.

We, the Rakyat who voted for change, will continue to support policies and programmes that place people first, especially those in most need ie the bottom 40% of the population.

Much as we recognise the need for reforms such as repealing oppressive laws and ratifying international treaties and conventions, tackling bread-and-butter issues is equally if not more pressing.

Indeed for its political survival, the Pakatan Harapan government should heed Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj’s practical suggestions to reduce poverty in our country.

For all you lawmakers on both sides of the divide who are genuine in wanting what is best for our country and its people, those of you who promote peace, justice and fairness, you will be duly rewarded.

But for those of you who are in it for your own selfish interest with no intention of serving the Rakyat, well, it is best you stay out of politics.

Henry Loh
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
9 April 2019

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