Sometime last year Nathaniel Tan and John Lee came up with a cogent collection of essays on human rights and published it as a book called Where is Justice? Death and Brutality in Custody.
I ordered a copy almost as soon as I read about it on Nat's blog. I ended up paying way too much for postage (about RM11) but was happy to have the book in my hands anyway. After I read the excellently crafted introduction, I decided to promote the book by blogging about it. Then other stuff happened (including an unplanned 2-week vacation in Sungai Buloh Hospital) and when I returned to civvy life in January 2010, my entire house had been rearranged and I couldn't find the book.
It mysteriously reappeared a few hours ago and I decided, before Justice goes AWOL again, to simply reproduce the brilliant intro here, slightly abridged...
There are some fundamental human rights which we all recognize. The right of a person to their life is paramount and sacrosanct, enshrined in Article 5 of our Federal Constitution. We instinctively understand that it is wrong to arbitrarily assault and threaten the lives of other people. But in spite of this, every year dozens, if not hundreds of people die under mysterious circumstances while in the custody and protection of the Malaysian government.
When the government deprives its people of the freedom to move about and live their lives, it assumes the responsibility of protecting them. The authorities cannot disclaim responsibility for accidental deaths. Even if we give them the immense benefit of the doubt, and assume that no police or custodial officer has ever assaulted someone in their custody, the question still remains: why do so many Malaysians die in the custody of our government?
Four pivotal cases over the last decade have shaken Malaysians and opened our eyes to how deeprooted this problem is. In [Where is Justice?] we scrutinize the real facts behind each of these four cases, followed by opinions from fellow Malaysians who demand answers.
We start with Teoh Beng Hock, a Selangor state government servant who fell to his death from a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission building during a corruption investigation. People do not simply fall out of buildings - so why and how did Teoh die? What burning questions remain yet unanswered?
We move on to A. Kugan, an alleged carjacker who, according to the police, suddenly collapsed and died while in their custody. When his family claimed his body from the morgue, it was covered in blood and bruises, and now even the Health Ministry has confirmed that he was tortured. Months after his death, the police cleared Kugan of all charges against him, saying they could find no evidence he was complicit in any car thefts - meaning an innocent man suffered and died while in the custody of our government.
Our next case is an unforgettable one - that of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a Mongolian woman murdered by elite police officers assigned to then Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. Her case remains shrouded in mystery - many believe someone must have ordered these commandos to kill Altantuya. Suspicion rested on Abdul Razak Baginda, a close associate of Najib's, but the courts could not find sufficient evidence to convict him. Altantuya's family continues to seek justice for Altantuya, demanding the government get to the bottom of the matter.
The last of our major cases is that of another former Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim. Beaten and brutalized by none other than the highest-ranking police officer in the country. Anwar's abuse in police custody shocked not only the nation, but the world. Although almost forgotten today, Anwar's case showed that even the most dedicated and highest of public servants can abuse their power and violate the sacred trust we place in them.
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We close the book with the stories of countless men and women who have died while under the custody and protection of our government. Each and every one of these people was a human being - someone with parents, siblings, friends, and co-workers. Some were guilty, some were innocent. All were entitled to the protection of the law - not to be tortured and summarily abused by the authorities.
The government acts on our behalf - on the behalf of the rakyat of Malaysia. It is a grave sin and injustice for our government to leave such abuses unchecked and ignored, and it is incumbent on every Malaysian to hold our government accountable for its actions.
John Lee Ming Keong