130 deaths in Wang Kelian: Prompt prosecutions required to ensure justice is done

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A cage used for illegal immigrants found at a human-trafficking camp in Wang Kelian, near the Malaysia-Thailand border of Wang Kelian - Photograph: Hasnoor Hussain/The Malaysian Insider

The delay in disclosing the report by a royal commission of inquiry is unacceptable and raises questions, says Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet).

Madpet is disappointed with the Malaysian government’s lack of transparency with regard to the findings and decisions of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Wang Kelian tragedy, where at least 130 persons died.

The victims allegedly included those from the ethnic Rohingya community of Myanmar and Bangladesh. The full royal commission report must be made public immediately.

In March 2015 illegal immigrants’ transit camps and 147 graves were discovered in Wang Kelian, Perlis. The skeletal remains of about 130 people were found.

Muhyiddin Yassin, the Home Minister, was reported as saying last month that the royal commission’s report on the Wang Kelian human trafficking incident would be submitted to the cabinet the following week (New Straits Times, 16 January 2020). Since then, based on media reports, there has been ‘silence’ on the part of the minister and the government.

The royal commission was set up with the consent of Yang di-Pertuan Agong on 29 January 2019. In June 2019 it was reported that “the final report and recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on the discovery of transit camps and mass graves in Wang Kelian, Perlis, will be presented to Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah in early September”. The 17-day inquiry heard the evidence of 48 witnesses since 17 April 2019 (Bernama).

Madpet wonders why so long a time has passed since the submission of the report to the king in September. That report, we believe, should have been sent to the government at the same time; if not, it raises the question as to why there was a delay in it reaching the minister and the cabinet. Surely, it is not the cabinet that decides whether there will be an investigation, prosecution and/or trial of the alleged perpetrators of crime.

The royal commission report, once completed, should have been made public and sent speedily to the cabinet and government for immediate action, including the prosecution of those who committed the crimes or tampered with the evidence.

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Royal commission reports in the past have mostly been made public, and this raises the question as to why this report has not yet been made public.

We recall the disturbing findings following an “exhaustive, two-year investigation by the New Straits Times Special Probes Team into the mass killings in Wang Kelian in 2015 that shook the world, has revealed startling new evidence, which suggests a massive, coordinated cover-up…. One of the biggest revelations was that the human trafficking death camps had been discovered months earlier, but police only announced the discovery on May 25” (New Straits Times, 20 December 2017).

“Another huge question mark was why did police order the destruction of these camps, which were potential crime scenes, before they could be processed by forensics personnel?

“One shocking discovery was that the authorities, particularly the Perlis police, knew the existence of these jungle camps in Wang Kelian in early January 2015, but had allegedly chosen not to do anything about them until half a year later.”

According to the NST report:

“A report lodged by one of the police’s own, identified as ASP J.K. on Jan 19, 2015, at 10.15pm, amongst others, stated that … The raiding team saw six cages, where scores of men and women were packed inside under the watchful eyes of foreign men armed with M-16 rifles. The gunmen also conducted roving patrols around the campsite. The team moved in about 4.30pm that day and detained 38 human trafficking victims (22 Bangladeshis and 16 Myanmar).

“According to the official after-action report, an estimated 150 individuals, who were caged up earlier, had ‘escaped into the jungle’ during the raid. How the men and women managed to ‘escape’ the assault team remains unknown.

“The report also identified a local, suffering from vitiligo – who had been acting as the middleman. Eleven more locals, whose role was to “deliver the goods”, were also identified.

“The report on the Bukit Wang Burma raid stated that the local middleman, who had been taken into custody, had admitted to greasing the palms of personnel in border security agencies to ensure that his operation could continue unmolested. ‘Many of these agencies are highly involved in human trafficking, and this is a serious trans-border crime that cannot be eliminated by arresting illegal immigrants and deporting them.

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“‘For as long as there are authorities working hand-in-glove with these syndicates, eradicating this problem will be an uphill battle,’ the document stated.”

“The NST Special Probes Team was let in on a March discovery of another camp in Bukit Genting Perah, now known as one of the largest human trafficking camps in the hills here. This startling find was revealed by a team of highly-trained men, including commandos, who were involved in a snatch-and-grab mission…. One by one, the commandos would grab and quickly overpower their targets, and then slip stealthily back into the cover of darkness. With all five foreign men in custody, the team regrouped and made their way down the hill.”

The Wang Kelian issue also raises concerns about corruption, which may involve persons tasked with enforcing the law.

What happened to the suspects who were arrested? What happened to the “38 human trafficking victims” rescued? Why was there not a speedy trial, more so since many of these suspects were caught red-handed and the witnesses were available?

The previous Barisan Nasional seems to have failed in ensuring justice was done.

The new Pakatan Harapan government, after coming into power, did act by setting up the royal commission of inquiry, but the procrastination and delay in making public the final royal commission report raises concern and questions.

Madpet believes that a speedy investigation and prosecution of all suspects involved in crimes, amongst others, murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, torture, corruption, abetment, concealing a design to commit an offence and tampering with evidence, would have been best – more so since it involved foreign victims. This should have been done speedily by the public prosecutor, police and relevant enforcement agencies. As time passes, witnesses’ memories fade, and contact with some may also be lost.

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No one, including public officers or politicians, should be above the law. Crime does not have any limitation, and all those persons suspected could still be charged now.

There is concern over what happened to all the arrested suspects and all potential victim-witnesses, included those released from the “cages”.

The use of detention without trial laws is not only unjust but also could also be a means of hiding the truth from the public, especially the involvement of ‘powerful’ persons and high-ranking officials. Only a public fair trial will suffice.

Madept wonders whether the lack of speedy investigation and prosecution in Malaysia when the police or other enforcement agencies are involved – as is happening now in the ‘enforced disappearance’ cases of Pastor Raymond Koh and Amri Che Mat where police officers were implicated – is the position adopted by this new PH Malaysian government.

At the very least, the public prosecutor could have made a statement on the status of investigations, even if it was a statement that no one could be charged at the moment due to insufficient evidence. This would appease us, knowing that Wang Kelian has not been forgotten.

The Wang Kelian case happened in 2015, and the new government came into power in mid-2018, which is about 20 months ago.

Madpet urges the immediate publication of the royal commission of inquiry report – for transparency and accountability demand this. There must be no further delays or cover-up.

Madpet urges the public prosecutor, the police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and other relevant agencies to speedily take action.

Madpet also calls on the attorney general, who is also the public prosecutor, to explain the status of investigation and prosecution of those suspected of crimes related to the Wang Kelian case, as there is no need to wait for any royal commission of inquiry report or cabinet direction when it comes to enforcing the law and ensuring justice is done.

Madpet also calls for laws to be amended to provide for the cost, including travel and board, to bring back foreign victims and witnesses, if needed, to the trials of those accused of crimes that took place in Wang Kelian. The non-availability of witnesses due to the absence of any ‘financial allocation’ should never be a justification for not prosecuting perpetrators of crime.

Madpet is against detention without trial and calls for a speedy, fair trial in open court. All laws that allow detention without trial must be abolished.

Madpet applauds the investigative journalism by the New Straits Times special probes team and hope that more journalists and media agencies will engage in such good practices to expose alleged wrongdoings and injustices that may otherwise not be known to the people or be subject to maybe a massive, coordinated cover-up.

Charles Hector released this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet).

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