Saturday, July 18, 2009

Nation shocked by death plunge

The food court was filling up in the late evening coolness of Cheras on Thursday. People from the tables around me were doing what I had just done, sauntering over to the newspapers vendor and picking up the evening edition of the next day's China Daily News.

They would return to the table and glanced at the front page, inevitably letting out a cry of shock, “Ean Yong Ian Wah's secretary died at MACC!” Everyone around the table would stare in disbelief, confusion, and anxiety. The newspaper was passed around the table. A whispered discussion then followed.

I imagined the scene repeating itself at dinner tables all around the country, with Malaysians sharing their silent explosion of outrage. Thinking about the ill-fated young man's parents, siblings and his grieving fiancée, I suddenly felt very sad and depressed.

Early the next morning, the rage and shock were boiling over on the Internet. On the blog 'Hornbill Unleashed', Pak Bui was associating the mysterious death of Teoh Beng Hock, 30, with that of A Kugan and Adi Anwar. Comments on many blogs expressed a universal condemnation of the MACC.

The first natural reaction would be: did Teoh commit suicide because he could not handle the heat of the intense investigation?

The possibility of suicide is nil. This young man was to have his marriage with his long-time girlfriend registered the next day. He was called in for questioning as a witness, and not as a suspect.

The alleged crime is too minor for any offender to contemplate suicide, even if he were to be charged. Besides, you can fault DAP leaders and members for many things, but you cannot fault them for cowardice.

How then did he fall to his death from the 14th floor? All kinds of theories flourish on the Internet. The most imaginative one has to be from controversial blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin. Prejudiced speculations will spread like wild fire in the days ahead throughout the country.

More questions than answers

The press conference given by the MACC investigation division director Shukri Abdull raised more questions than answers.

He said that Teoh was interrogated from 5pm to 3.45am. The deprivation of sleep during interrogation is a blatant form of torture, and should be banned by law. If long interrogation was necessary, why then did they not call him in at 9 in the morning and finish with it at around five in the afternoon?

Shukri said that Teoh was released at 3.45 in the morning, but preferred to rest on the couch in the MACC building till morning.

I had been detained for one night once, like many others. We all know that the minute we are released from detention, we wish we had wings to fly speedily to our loved ones. One more minute in the place where your personal liberty has been deprived seems like eternity in hell!

If Teoh had indeed decided to stay back and rest, surely he must have called his loved ones to assure them of his safety. Were there such calls made to his parents, his soon-to-be-wife, and his boss?

Teoh's lawyer M Manoharan had volunteered to accompany him for the duration of the interrogation, but this was denied by MACC. Under what law has the MACC the power to deny legal representation for witnesses being interrogated? If there is such a law, the law must be amended to remove such powers in the name of human rights and rule of law.

A life in full bloom cruelly cut short

So a young man at the prime of his life brimming with promise and prospect of personal happiness walked into the MACC building for an interview and ended up as a corpse. What other story can pluck at the heart-string of the national audience of our mainstream and alternative media than this tale of a life in full bloom cruelly cut short?

The MACC has the power to summon such witnesses in the discharge of their official duties, but they have every legal and moral responsibility to ensure the personal safety of every such witness. They cannot be exonerated from their legal liabilities in such a mysterious death. Will Teoh's parents take the MACC to court?

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah – the widely respected grand old man of Malaysian politics – has this to say on his blog:

“With all Malaysians, I am shocked and deeply dismayed at the death of Teoh... The strange circumstances of Teoh's death put the credibility of the government and our investigative and law enforcement agencies under a microscope. The public will expect nothing less than a full investigation into how something like this could have happened.”

Indeed, the dismayed public of all races will expect nothing less than a full investigation into this mysterious death. Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim has already called for the establishment of a royal commission to probe into Teoh's death. The call is echoed by other opposition parties, civil society groups, bloggers, and even Khairy Jamaluddin, the Umno Youth chief.

There are the cynical among us who question such a call. Past royal commissions set up to investigate into police reform had been less than successful, because their findings and recommendations had not been accepted and implemented fully by the government.

That may be so. But democratic progress in any country is all about institution building. We ought to encourage the establishment of more royal commissions on controversial issues like Teoh's death.

In fact, the parameters of the proposed royal commission should include the probe of all deaths under detention, and the procedure of interrogation conducted by all law enforcement and investigative agencies.

As Razaleigh has surmised correctly, the sight of public outrage will be trained not only on the MACC and the Royal Malaysian Police, but eventually it will concentrate on the prime minister and his BN government. The call by the deputy prime minister for everybody to calm down would be seen as an arrogant insensitive retort against a spontaneous and universal outburst of grief among Malaysians.

First martyr under Najib's rule

Unpredictably and in one fell swoop, the death of the unfortunate young man at the MACC headquarters has turned the tide for the fracturing opposition coalition. The three component parties of the Pakatan Rakyat coalition have forgotten their public squabbles, and have stood united in seeking justice for Teoh.

This emotionally-charged tragedy has touched a raw nerve in the nation. Malaysians are not going to forget it anytime soon. The experienced political leaders in Pakatan are going to keep the memory of their first martyr under Najib's rule alive for months to come, with public rituals of mourning, remembrance, and requiem. It will turn out to be a hotter potato for Najib than the nation's economy and defeats at by-elections.

The momentum of BN from its near-win at the Manek Urai by-election, the rising popularity of the PM following the spin of his 100-day in office, and the announcement of his liberalisation measures will now be swept aside.

The continued repression of public gatherings in connection with Teoh's death will ensure that the fire of discontent will continue to be stoked to no end.

Eventually, it is all about the core value that must permeate any sovereign political entity: trust. The people must have trust in the laws of the land, and the institutions of state that are entrusted in the implementation of those laws.

When that trust vanishes because of abuse of power, then those institutions will not get the voluntary supportive cooperation from the people. Information from the sea of concerned honest civic conscious citizens will cease to come in, and the institutions will lose their moral legitimacy.

If the institutions still persist on exercising its power over the people after their moral legitimacy has already been destroyed by themselves, then it is warfare between those institutions and the people whom they are supposed to guard against injustices. That is a sure formula for chaos.

That is the fate awaiting the MACC at this critical juncture of our nation's history.
SIM KWANG YANG was MP for Bandar Kuching from 1982 to 1995. He can be reached at


Voice of the Oppressed, Suppressed said...

If we want to avoid more deaths I would suggest BN leaders in Sabah and Sarawak, MCA, Gerakan withdraw their support for UMNO.

You are also committing sin by association with evil doers and killers (UMNO).

Your hands are also soaked in blood.

AJ7 said...

Yeah! What have all the other component parties to say? Or are their hands too tainted to do anything? Indeed a depressing time for Malaysia.