Thursday, June 18, 2009


For the benefit of those of you who don't subscribe to Malaysiakini, I'm reproducing an excellent article by featured columnist Helen Ang whose lucid and no-nonsense analysis of Umno/BN's doublethink and double standards hits the nail soundly on the head. I particularly liked how Ms Ang chooses to call the home minister "the Umno minister in charge of police" - because that perfectly describes what's going on with all these counterproductive arrests of patriotic political dissidents for wearing black and lighting candles - while demented sadists in uniform (who apparently get high on torturing and beating to death helpless prisoners in their custody) continue getting paid their salaries out of the public purse. Bravo, Helen!

No room for double standards
Helen Ang | Jun 18, 09 11:35am

Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was surprisingly low key in his first days on the job. Then on June 5, Hishammuddin finally obliged fans with his inimitable doublespeak.

On the Manohara Odelia Pinot case, the Umno minister in charge of police said: “Saya rasa tidak perlu ada cover-up langsung tetapi dalam kita membuat siasatan jangan ada penganiayaan, jangan ada perbezaan oleh kerana seseorang itu berada dalam kedudukan yang tertentu mendapat layanan, bukan layanan secara positif, layanan yang negatif, dan itu tidak adil.”

Hishammuddin assures us that police would not treat someone who is in a certain [high] position any differently. However he then proceeds to insinuate that he fears Tengku Muhammad Fakhry Petra's status as Kelantan royalty would prejudice rather than advantage the prince in police investigation.

It is Orwellian reverse psychology to imply that Fakhry, due to his family's powerful and protected position, could possibly be victimised and treated less fairly than the average Joe. Since when has any major royal who's had a brush with Malaysian law come off the worse for it?

What we've had over the last month is only Polis Di-Raja Malaysia dancing poco-poco around the prince's runaway wife and her accusations of statutory rape, marital rape, kidnap and torture.

16-year-old bride Manohara Odelia Pinot and her Kelantanese prince Tengku Fakhry Petra

Recalling in chilling detail how the estranged husband supposedly inflicted the wounds on her chest, Manohara claims in Jakarta Globe – “[Fakhry] just took his time, slowly. He looked as calm as ever. It's like if you gave someone a paintbrush and told him to draw a flower”.

I'm inclined to believe Manohara's story as there is a ring of truth to her description, such as how she didn't tell her ambitious mother about the alleged rape (behaviour congruent with confused and conflicted teen), and how she was more frightened by the helpless condition due to the temporary drug-induced paralysis than by the sight of a razor slicing her (a rather astute psychological insight for a young person to be credited with).

Nonetheless, there are sceptics who fault Manohara for making too many public appearances since her escape and posing too prettily for the cameras.

But I for one can understand why she felt the need to recount her ordeal in numerous meetings with the press. It's the battle to win public opinion when one is a foreigner in Malaysia up against a privileged institution the local populace is well-trained not to criticise.

Kelantan deputy police chief Amir Hamzah Ibrahim had warned that blogs considered to have defamed the Kelantan monarchy are being investigated under the Penal Code. It would be hard to blame Malaysians if they see the police as protecting particular persons while at the same time intimidating the ordinary citizen.

Hence it's lucky for her that Manohara is Indonesian and has an American biological father as well as a French stepfather, and commands sympathetic international media attention. Abuse victims in Malaysia who are less glamorous do not attract the same interest, especially if they're poor Indian males.

Police lock-up a dangerous place

Indians are the ethnic group in absolute numbers most numerously held under police remand. For them, contact with police is more deadly than swine flu contagion. Men die in police custody and show signs of abuse on their bodies. After death, they are abused some more by the authorities and mainstream media with unproven aspersions cast on their character.

This is how The Star on Tuesday reported the death of 53-year-old A Gnanapragasam. Its headline blared: 'Suspected thief died in lock-up due to infection.' Does the deceased being portrayed as a suspected criminal mitigate the human loss occasioned by his death? Gnanapragasam leaves behind a widow and eight children.

Another individual who died in police custody, A. Kugan was labelled 'suspected car thief.' Neither man had even been brought to court to face charges. Other Indians shot dead by police or who died in the lock-up were 'suspected armed robbers,' 'suspected rapists,' 'suspected gangsters,' etc. Not to forget, the Hindraf 5 lawyers, say Polis Di-Raja Malaysia, were suspected to have links with terrorists.

But rest assured we would never hear police top brass speculating that Tengku Fakhry is a 'suspected wife abuser.'

Contrary to Hishammuddin's disingenuous assertion on the fairness of police conduct, it's evident that the police do not apply the same standards to the under-privileged as compared to the privileged. Nothing has come out of the investigation into the death of Uthaya Chandran who turned 23 in Sungai Buloh prison last April and who was found dead on his birthday.

If they belong to the lower socio-economic order, then Indians be they young or old have a greater chance than the average person of suffering police abuse. Last August, police picked up N. Logeswaran, 10, from his school for suspected theft. Parti Sosialis Malaysia deputy chairman M. Sarasvathy, who took up his case, said police slapped Logeswaran on his face and tried to choke him.

“They even tried to melt some plastic on the boy’s private parts and it got his leg,” said Sarasvathy in Perak.

How can we trust police?

Recently in Taman Tennamaram, Selangor, 58-year-old grandma P. Thanggama was hauled from her home by a police raiding party at one o'clock in the morning. She was detained overnight at the police station to have her statement recorded for police investigation into gangsterism.

On June 9, The Malay Mail carried an article with the headline 'You can still trust the police, says Selangor top cop' which quoted state police chief Khalid Abu Bakar (right) saying, “The people should understand that my men have a job to do and they do it fairly. They must understand there was also a police report lodged against the grandmother for rioting and that was why she was picked up.”

A 'suspected rioter' granny now, eh? Selangor CPO Khalid, like Malaysian politicians, says the darndest things.

In the Gnanapragasam case, national news agency Bernama and the Malay papers Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian reported deputy inspector-general of police Ismail Omar relating how the deceased was a hardcore drug addict.

The police are trigger-happy in firing their slurs at Indians but otherwise show commendable restraint in refraining from adverse comments on the Kelantan prince.

Assurances from Hishammuddin, Khalid and other bigwigs about police acting fairly will not allay public distrust of the police.

The police station is the last place members of the public would want to be kept, however briefly. Kugan spent five days with police and was taken out in a body bag. Gnanapragasam was with police four days and died under their watch.

Gnanapragasam's wife saw that her husband had bruised eyes when he was brought before the magistrate two days before his death. He had also complained to the magistrate on beating and torture by police. But Petaling Jaya police chief ACP Arjunaidi Mohammed said the autopsy did not trace any bruises or injuries on the body, and appealed to the public not to believe rumours.

Deputy IGP Ismail, commenting on Gnanapragasam's sudden death, said according to police procedure, a magistrate and a doctor would be brought over to look at or examine the body before it was removed.

That's a bit too late, don't you think?

HELEN ANG is a Malaysiakini columnist. She was arrested for dressing in black on 7 May 2009 near the Perak state assembly.