Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

We Are All Guilty

To those who usually like to "throw the first stone" especially on matters of corruption, and that means you so called urbane elite, here is an article that should give your mind a little bit of exercise, if your attention can hold so long..
Sunday March 8, 2009
Kugan’s blood on our hands?

In light of recent revelations, the memory of a decade-old conversation returns to haunt our columnist.

ROUND about 1999 (give or take a year) I was invited by the creative director of an advertising agency in KL to come and talk to his creative team about scriptwriting. A couple of weeks before my talk, he asked me if I wanted to drop by and watch that week’s guest speaker to get a sense of who my audience would be and to get some ideas of what to talk about.

The guest speaker that day was a successful advertising person from another agency. I sat in for that lady’s lecture, and a handful of us went for tea afterwards. I don’t remember a whole lot from the conversation at the coffee shop. In fact, I remember only one thing, which was so traumatic that it has wiped out all the other memories.

It was an off-hand remark from the famous advertising lady. She announced that her BMW had been stolen, and the police had caught the guy who did it, so she gave the policemen RM50 to beat the thief up in the lockup.

Now, I like to think I’m pretty cynical – even 10 years ago I was pretty cynical – but when I heard this, I was genuinely shocked.“How could you do this?” I demanded, while our hosts politely tried to ignore the tension at the table. “Doesn’t the guy have rights?

She shrugged, completely unrepentant. “He stole my car. I can’t be bothered to go to court – there’s probably not enough evidence anyway – but this guy definitely did it. Can’t just let him get away with it.”

“You don’t think it’s unfair to try and bribe a bunch of policemen to assault someone who is unable to defend himself, and who in any case is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court?”

“No. He stole my car. You have to teach him a lesson.”

We may have exchanged a few more words, but that was the essence of the conversation. I was disgusted, and I still am. I have never spoken to this person again, and in the intervening years I have been unable to form an objective opinion of her many professional achievements because of the callousness and cowardliness of what she announced so airily that day.

But before I go any further I should acknowledge a couple of things, in the interest of fairness. First, she could have been lying. She might have made up the whole story. I cannot, however, imagine why someone would want to make up a story about herself that demonstrated an utter contempt for human rights and the rule of law, and indeed for basic human decency. In theory, however, it’s possible she made up the story in order to indirectly cast aspersions on the character and conduct of the police.

Second, even if she wasn’t making it up, we have no way of knowing if the police actually acted on her illegal request. They might not actually have beaten up the suspect. They might have behaved with perfect propriety and kindness.

For all I know – and for all the advertising lady knew – they might have donated the RM50 to an orphanage, then bought the alleged car thief a nice lunch, and released him unharmed, with a gift bag containing spa vouchers and a selection of herbal teas.

So I don’t claim to know what actually happened, and I refuse to make the mistake that she did, which was to presume the guilt of those involved.

But I do want to ask a few questions, based solely on the fact that she brought up this story, whether or not it was true.

My first set of questions is directed at her, in the hope that she might be a reader of this publication. Do you see any moral relationship at all, dear advertising lady, between bribing policemen to beat up the man who supposedly stole your BMW 10 years ago, and the death in police custody on Jan 20 this year of alleged luxury car thief Kugan Ananthan, who an independent post-mortem claims was repeatedly burned with a hot iron and beaten to death?

Do you still think it was justified for you to have wanted to teach him a lesson? Would you have liked it to have been as severe a lesson as Kugan’s appears to have been? Or is death by renal failure caused by severe beating just a bit too severe for you?

So exactly how much pain and torture would you have liked to have had inflicted on the person who stole your car? In your opinion, how much cruelty visited upon a naked, cowering human body is equivalent to the loss of a fine piece of German automotive engineering?

And now I want to ask this of the wider Malaysian public: Aren’t we all responsible for the death of Kugan? Do we care so much about our property – our things – that we can excuse or rationalise the physical torment and annihilation of people accused of stealing that property? Are we so frightened by the upsurge in crime rates that we will turn a blind eye to possible acts of sadism and murder?

Can’t we see that condoning police abuse actually doesn’t make our country any safer?

Shouldn’t we be encouraging the police to do things properly, to deploy all their skills and intelligence to investigate crimes and gather evidence lawfully, and build a case that can stand in court, instead of attempting to extract information or confessions by torture, or to impose their own punishment?

What happens if innocent people are tortured so badly that they confess to crimes they didn’t commit? How does that make our streets safer?

And does it make our streets safer if there is the chance that a guilty criminal goes free because a decent judge realises his confession has been obtained under duress – and that the prosecution’s case depends solely on that confession because a proper police investigation was never done?

Does it make our streets safer if a criminal gets the impression that he can bribe his way out of detention or indictment?

And shouldn’t Malaysians acknowledge that this system is of our creation – that we have made it what it is by condoning small acts of corruption?

When we try to bribe a traffic policeman at a roadblock in order to escape a summons, can’t we see that it begins a chain reaction of moral degradation that leads to a well-to-do person thinking that with RM50 she can transform professional law enforcers into a private band of torturers?

The media, civil society groups and political parties – including, it should be noted, Barisan Nasional components – have reacted swiftly to the independent pathologist’s report on Kugan’s death, strongly condemning the brutality that the report implies.

This is right and noble, but shouldn’t we have made a similar fuss over each of the 85 deaths in police custody that occurred between 2003 and 2007?

Should I have waited 10 years to tell my story?

Did Kugan Ananthan die so horribly because when Malaysians had so many opportunities to speak out, we were so very silent?

Huzir Sulaiman writes for theatre, film, television, and newspapers. His book Eight Plays is published by Silverfish.

Nonetheless this does not mean that if we are unhappy with our keepers of the law, we should then take the law into our own hands, should we?