Mariam Mokhtar: What Does It Take to Get Justice in Malaysia?

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On the surface, it appears that a legal battle is raging, when in fact, we are engaged in propaganda warfare.

When I said that the president of the Bar Council’s press statement about Riza Aziz’s sweetheart deal was wishy-washy and non-committal, a lawyer friend took umbrage.

When I tried to glean an insight into the public spat between former attorney-general Tommy Thomas, the chief of the MACC Azam Baki and current Attorney-General Idrus Harun, my lawyer friend said that it was impossible for me to understand what had transpired, because “I am not familiar with legal matters”.

This sounds like the criticism levelled by conservative Muslims when I write about polygamy, the tudung (headscarf), child marriages and their obsession with rituals. They claim that I am not qualified to comment, as I did not study Islam at university.

Must one undergo three years of intense study in a particular subject, to form an opinion?

The original remark of Thomas that he would “consider” Riza’s lawyer’s deal appears to have been twisted. His detractors have convinced themselves that the word “consider” means “to agree”. Perhaps, they misunderstood the nuances of the English language.

One can appreciate the use of the word “consideration” by Thomas to keep the lines of communication open and to maintain dialogue in the hope of securing more concessions from Riza’s lawyers.

When “considering” a proposal, be it a marriage offer, a divorce settlement or a business partnership, few will ‘agree’ to the initial offer. “Considering” a proposal just indicates the person’s interest, but more give and take, and engagement is necessary before reaching a final settlement.

Riza’s deal has exposed the ‘soft’ justice which has been crippling Malaysia for decades. Mixed messages are sent to the rakyat, to crooks, to the international community and to those who worked hard to rid this nation of tyranny.


Demoralised Malaysians will say, “If those who commit crimes cannot be punished, we may as well join them.” Severe damage will be inflicted on our society.

Euphoric politicians who need an additional RM3 billion for their immediate household needs will know that they only have to steal RM6 billion and return half.

Ordinary members of the rakyat are not concerned about the legal jargon, or the small print in the legal deliberation. They see a rich man, who allegedly stole RM1.08 billion of the taxpayers’ money and engaged clever lawyers who have enabled him to keep half his loot and live as a free man. The underlying message is “Crime pays well.”

Law enforcers drag their feet when prosecuting the political elite. They are handled with kid gloves, whereas poor Malaysians, including those who steal to feed their families, are swiftly and harshly punished.

Our law practitioners give the impression that they are afraid of dispensing real justice. Are they afraid of rocking the establishment?

Some critics fail to appreciate that Riza’s stepfather, his mother and other politicians awaiting trial for money-laundering and criminal breach of trust will be emboldened by the psychological boost provided by Riza’s deal; but those whose testimonies helped to secure charges against the corrupt may fear retribution.

Does anyone remember one occasion when senior politicians, their family members, or businessmen who were on trial for serious crimes were punished?

In the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal, RM12 billion of the rakyat’s money was squandered and nobody was found guilty after a lengthy and costly trial.

Teoh Beng Hock’s killers still roam free. Disgraced Najib Abdul Razak’s ‘janji Melayu’ to the family, that “No stone will be left unturned”, remains unfulfilled.

Ahmad Sarbani’s killers are still at large. He was ready to expose corruption in the Customs Department.

A Customs Department deputy director-general was shot dead at a traffic light junction in Putrajaya. A few men were assassinated in the East Coast. These investigations were swept under the carpet, too.

We went through the motions of a trial after the murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu. Two men were found guilty, but one murderer ‘escaped’ to Australia.

The fear of successfully prosecuting someone is not confined to political or government matters.

Innocent children have died at the hands of irresponsible tahfiz school and local authorities. The investigation into 11-year-old Mohamad Thaqif Amin Mohd Gaddafi’s death is an insult to his family. The warden escaped justice, the injured boy’s limbs were amputated, and his body exhumed for a second post-mortem. After the desecration of his body, the authorities blamed his death on leptospirosis (a disease caused by rat urine).

The investigation into the gang-rape of two Kelantanese teenage girls by 30 men fizzled out because of “insufficient evidence”. Models were thrown off buildings or died on the beaches of the islands of Johore, but no-one witnessed anything.

The testimony of a lecturer, rather than a pathologist, was used to dismiss an accident into the death of a fireman. The coroner instructed the police to find the two or three assailants said to be involved. These mythical characters have not been found.

Last year, another “discharge not amounting to an acquittal” (DNAA) shocked both Malaysians and Indonesians. A domestic helper, Adelina Lisao, died from starvation, ill-treatment and lack of medication.

We were told there was insufficient evidence or witnesses to mount a prosecution, but the real reason is probably because the authorities fear an avalanche of cases against Malaysian employers. Many maids have returned to their home countries in a box.

From time to time, a few ‘Datuks’, middle managers and junior civil servants are prosecuted for corruption. The ikan bilis are trapped, whilst the sharks are allowed to escape.

A psychiatrist was given a DNAA for allegedly sexually molesting his patients. If he had been successfully prosecuted, many other doctors might have been charged.

Ever since the removal of Mohd Salleh Abas from his post as Lord President of the Federal Court, no prime minister has wanted to be seen directly interfering with the judiciary. However, Malaysians remain gullible and naive. They religiously believe that the rule of law exists in Malaysia. It does not.

The most dangerous outcome of Riza’s deal will soon materialise. Those who stole our votes and made a farce of our democracy are evaluating the rakyat’s reaction.

Your silence will mean that more high-profile Umno-Baru money-laundering and criminal breach of trust charges will be dropped. Therefore, it is imperative that you maintain the pressure. – Malaysiakini

The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.