Former Bar Council chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan has schooled Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi on how a proper legal process should work following his remarks on the acquittal of a driver over an accident which killed eight teenage cyclists two years ago.
“I will say to Zahid: Welcome to Malaysia where the rule of law prevails, not race.
“Where the facts and the law matter, not who you are. Where justice is served though ‘the heavens may fall’,” she told Malaysiakini this evening.
Ambiga said this concept, which was alien to the previous government of which the former deputy prime minister was part of, is what would make new Malaysia strong.
At a ceramah in Tanjung Piai, Johor, last night, Zahid had cast aspersions on magistrate Siti Hajar Ali’s decision to free Sam Ke Ting, 24, of a reckless driving charge.
“When eight kids riding their bicycles in Johor were killed by a woman, that woman was freed as if there was no proof. The kids have been killed. This is a government of double standards.”
While Zahid did not mention the woman’s race, criticism of the court ruling has been focused on her Chinese ethnicity.
In her judgment, Siti Hajar said that at the time of the incident, Sam was not under the influence of alcohol, was not using her handphone and had her seatbelt on – all proof that she was driving carefully.
The magistrate said the bicycle gang had put themselves in danger.
In commending Siti Hajar, Ambiga said the magistrate possessed the courage to act according to the facts and law as she saw them, uninfluenced by race emotion or fear.
“The disease of expecting judgments to be handed down on the basis of race must not be allowed to take root.
“The prosecution may appeal if they wish and the legal process will again take its course in the appellate courts. This is how an independent judiciary and justice system works.
“This is not to say for one minute that the public does not sympathise with the families of those who died. But the law, which does not discriminate on racial grounds, must be allowed to take its course,” she was quoted as saying in the report.
Any other system, Ambiga warned, would lead to anarchy.
She said that the world is watching the manner in which the nation and its institutions are being built.
“Strengthening the rule of law will build confidence in the country and attract investment. Only if we are a country of laws, will we progress.
“Politicians who fail to understand this, do the country and our justice system a terrible disservice,” she added.
Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin also ticked off Zahid for not understanding the rule of law.
“I am surprised that Zahid does not understand the country’s legal system, a former deputy prime minister, a good friend of mine who doesn’t respect the decision of the court,” Muhyiddin told reporters on the campaign trail of the Tg Piai by-election.
Muhyiddin, however, said the case went through the proper legal process and those who are unsatisfied with the ruling should appeal the decision.
“If there are people who sympathise, then bring a lawyer to the court and use the appeals process,” Muhyiddin said.
“If we win or not, we cannot force the court to make a decision because Malaysia uses the rule of law.”
Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh said Zahid should be cited for contempt of court.
“The former home minister has scandalised and offended the dignity, impartiality and integrity of the court,” Ramkarpal said in a statement today.
“This is a serious allegation and goes beyond fair criticism of the decision of the said Magistrate as such criticism can cause the public to feel that she was biased and had taken into consideration matters which ought not to have been, when deciding the matter.”
Related report: Nov 7, Ramkarpal Urges Court to Charge Zahid with Contempt for Criticising Driver’s Acquittal