Detaining Justice in Malaysia

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mustafaDelayed and distorted justice in Malaysia goes against the very Islamic values that the present government seems to be promoting, points out Mustafa Kamal Anuar. Quoting chapter and verse from the Qur’an to show the importance of justice in Islam, he says its about time that PM Abdullah walked the talk. 

The release of 17 Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees, including Nik Adli Nik Abdul Aziz, the Kelantan Menteri Besar’s son, on 18-19 October 2006, was predictably heart-warming especially for their loved ones who had been waiting endlessly for their eventual return.

That it was timed just a few days before the recent Eid festival or Hari Raya Puasa might have been merely coincidental. But given the significance of the holy month of Ramadan to Muslims – when the adherents are expected to exercise restraint, to cleanse themselves spiritually, to be consciously devoted to Allah, to do justice to oneself and others, and to generally do good things – the decision to release the ISA detainees is likely to be regarded by many as a deliberate and generous gesture by the Abdullah administration.

In fact, some may liken the release to a Hari Raya ‘gift’, for which the ex-detainees and their families are to be grateful.

 

Unfinished business

But this ‘gift’ carries certain unpleasant baggage that sorely needs to be unpacked, judiciously and immediately. There is ‘unfinished business’ that needs attending to if the ex-detainees are to face the ‘new world’ with composure, confidence and inner peace. Equally, if not more importantly, the government needs to address this issue if it desires to reclaim the moral high ground because the release of the detainees does not and cannot atone for the BN’s political sin.

Going to the crux of the matter, the ISA detainees were released without being given the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to prove their innocence in a court of law. They were detained under the ISA, which does not allow for a legal recourse.

Put differently, these former detainees are expected to start life anew only while carrying the albatross of the old suspicion of their purported involvement in the activities of the so-called Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM) and Jemaah Islamiyah. If their detention was indeed based on mere suspicion, then extreme injustice undoubtedly has been committed against them.

It is also an injustice of gigantic proportions that a significant portion of the detainees’ lives has been wasted away through this detention-without-trial regime, especially if it were somehow established in future that they are indeed innocent of the ‘crimes’ they were accused of having committed. There is no way that the government, or anyone for that matter, could compensate for the colossal and unfair loss of time in their precious lives and for the unimaginable mental agony and suffering experienced by their families during their detention.

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This gross injustice sits very uneasily with the Islamic values that supposedly have been injected into the government first by the previous Mahathir administration through its Islamisation project and subsequently promoted by the present Abdullah administration via his so-called Islam Hadhari. Malaysians are therefore deeply concerned that such violations of human rights by the government smacks of mocking the exalted principle of justice in Islam.

To be sure, Islam, like many other religious traditions, places utmost importance on justice as exemplified by, among others, the following verse in the Qur’an:

 

‘O ye who believed! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.’ (Surah Al-Nisa’ 4:135)


This verse patently shows that the followers of Islam are exhorted to exercise justice conscientiously in their daily affairs, even if it means going against the interests of oneself, one’s family, relatives and others. Hence, one cannot, for instance, be partial to an injustice committed by one’s own kind or ethnicity, especially if it is done on the pretext of promoting the interests of ‘the community’, or ‘my country right or wrong’ and, God forbid, of Islam.

In short, there shouldn’t be a rallying cry of ‘my love for my community, good or bad’. Justice in this context must be administered without fear or favour.

Thus, for example, followers of the beleaguered Selangor state assemblyman for Port Klang, Zakaria Mat Deros, who is embroiled in a land and housing controversy, should not have blindly ranted and protested against criticism levelled by the general public, including certain non-Malay-based political parties.

Worse, they should not have conveniently turned this issue into an ethnic one, i.e. by claiming that non-Malays are attacking the interests of ‘the Malays’, because, as shown above, Islam is blind to ethnicity and status when it comes to administering justice.

His followers should have called for calm and allowed justice to run its course – especially if they truly believe that their leader is in the right.

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Additionally, it does not help much if someone like Selangor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khir Toyo argues that there are others – apart from Zakaria Mat Deros – in the state who have constructed buildings without proper planning approval from the relevant authorities. This kind of logic suggests that two (or more) wrongs make a right, an expression that is tantamount to poking one’s middle finger into the air.

No accountability or transparency either

Like justice, accountability does not appear to be high on the priority list of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition –  despite the Abdullah administration’s much-touted commitment to transparency and accountability. The refusal to be accountable and transparent is most apparent in the government’s handling of the ISA cases where its action in detaining people does not require justification by law apart from mere assertions or allegations that it publicises.

Indeed, this misdemeanour of the BN’s does not jive with the notion of accountability in Islam. A believer only needs to recall the warning of the Day of Judgement, according to the teachings of Islam, where every shred of evidence available will be used in the administration of justice upon human beings in the hereafter. Surely this indicates the seriousness Islam gives to evidence and accountability.

In other words, the vicegerent (khalifah) or the representative of Allah (that is, the human being) on earth is made accountable for her every deed and misdeed on earth. The things that she does to God, herself, her family, her relatives, her friends, animals and plants, among other things, are taken into consideration in the Final Accounting of the hereafter.

One would think that the responsibility to account for whatever one does is heaviest on the shoulders of those who hold leadership positions – for instance ruling party leaders, heads of governmental agencies and departments, captains of industry and ketuas kampung – because their actions, or inaction, have far-reaching repercussions on the lives of those under their charge.

Surah Al-Anbiya’
in the Qur’an illustrates clearly this notion of justice and accountability:

 

‘We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgement, so that not a soul will be dealt with unjustly in the least. And if there be (no more than) the weight of a mustard seed, We will bring it (to account): and enough are We to take account.’ (21:47)

 

Umno immune to graft laws?

And yet not too long ago, we’ve been told by no less than the de-facto law minister, Nazri Aziz, that Umno is immune to graft laws because party members charged with money politics and bribery are, so goes the argument, only answerable to the party’s Disciplinary Board.

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Surely these people, many of whom are poised to be leaders of their own Malay community in particular and of Malaysians in general should not be immune to laws that are meant to curb corruption – laws that are guided by the divine notion of justice and accountability. And yet Umno chooses a different path that only lends itself to the suspicion, rightly or wrongly, that it is a political party that is a law unto itself.

The BN government also seems to have lost its moral compass when it categorically rejected calls by the Bar Council and civil society groups and individuals to review the controversial dismissal in 1988 of Lord President Salleh Abas and his fellow Supreme Court judges, the late Tan Sri Wan Suleiman and the ailing Datuk George Seah.

It is sheer injustice that the reputation of these judges has not been cleared through a proper judicial review given that their dismissal occurred under suspicious circumstances – this injustice now stands out starkly as a dark blot in our recent history. That one of the judges has already passed away only makes it all the more pressing for the Abdullah administration to call for a judicial review. To do otherwise would be morally indefensible, if not reprehensible.

In the case of the ISA, the government must take urgent steps to dismantle this colonial relic that is so injurious to the very foundation of democracy, human rights and the universal values of justice and accountability.

The fact that other countries, such as the United States and Australia, have crafted similar draconian laws after the appalling September 11 incident does not make the ISA any more valid, just and humane.

Delayed and distorted justice in Malaysia goes against the very Islamic values that the present government seems to promote and practise. One of the ten fundamental principles in Islam Hadhari that the government professedly strives to achieve is to develop ‘a just and trustworthy government’.

It’s about time the Abdullah administration, now into its fourth year of governance, really walked the talk.

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