The good news … and the bad

Perhaps we should celebrate even fleeting victories because the bad news, when it comes, can be rather depressing, observes Zaharom Nain.

No to detention without trial – Photo courtesy of reformisjalanan.blogspot.com

After a couple of weeks or so of unrelenting inanity, enough to make me wax lyrical (well, almost) in this column, I thought of writing something nice, inoffensive, lighthearted even, this week.

After all, two Malaysian court decisions this past week certainly gave many of us reason to cheer.

The judgment for the five ex-ISA detainees in the illegal detention suit they brought against the regime, for one, must have been the perfect pick-me-up for many of us.

The KL High Court found that the five had been detained unlawfully and in bad faith in 2001 and reportedly awarded them “RM15,000 each, for every day of their detention under Section 73 of the Internal Security Act, as well as RM30,000 each as aggravated damages”.

Altogether, in the 2 October 2012 judgment, five former ISA detainess, then Reformasi activists, including the irrepressible Hishamuddin Rais (left), Pas’ Hulu Selangor assembly member Saari Sungib and PKR’s Batu MP Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, were awarded a total of RM4m.

There are probably those who may think that this is a big, even exorbitant, sum.

But when we read the litany of abuses they had to go through at the hands of the authorities, which, according to their lawyer, included being “shamed, made to change their clothing in front of police personnel, made to walk barefoot into a filthy toilet, interrogated for hours on end and for the first few days of detention, the Muslims among them were not allowed to perform their prayers”, it would seem that RM4m is a rather reasonable sum. Small change even.

Small change indeed, when compared to, say, the amounts that evidently changed hands with the PFKZ scandal, the NFC debacle and, most certainly, the amounts quoted in the Scorpene case.

Of course, the regime may still appeal the decision. But that will be another story.

A day before this memorable decision, yet more good news had been received by the many Malaysians genuinely wanting reform.

This was The Kuala Lumpur High Court’s decision to quash “the Home Ministry’s decision not to grant a publishing permit to Mkini Dotcom Sdn Bhd, which operates the Malaysiakini news portal”.

It was wonderful news, especially given the ridiculous, idiotic accusations hurled by the increasingly unpopular mainstream media at Malaysiakini just a few days before, among which were accusations that Malaysiakini was out to topple the BN government.

In an almost immediate, certainly predictable, response to the High Court verdict, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced that he was in favour of appealing the decision.

Baffling statements

Indeed, in two rather baffling statements given at the same press conference, the often-bewildering, if not himself bewildered, minister is quoted by the respected Edge newspaper, as having first said “on a personal basis, of course, I would like to see the matter appealed”.

Then, when reportedly asked the reason for rejecting Malaysiakini’s appeal in 2010, he had this to say: “I was not around at the time…this is a legacy issue, that is what happened before. [If we dwell on the past], then we will not be able to move forward.”

I don’t know about you, but in my neck of the woods, this is what we would call a contradiction. And with this contradiction – not the first of its kind by the jokers of this regime – it looks as though Malaysiakini’s problems getting a newspaper permit will continue.

But, as a friend in Vermont, USA, texted me, “Celebrating even fleeting victories, without gloating over or making too much of them, would seem important.”

The more important point is that this story of Malaysiakini’s problems was covered quite significantly in the overseas media, in, among others, the New York Times. Indeed, it was the news item in the NYT that prompted my Vermont friend to message me.

However, this being Malaysia, and with the elections just down the road, however long, rocky and winding it may seem for some, such happy news tends to be drowned out by quite pathetic ones.

The most odious story had to come from the state that for so long was held in awe for having produced five legendary warriors. Indeed, Malacca, according to our ever-changing history books, is renowned for the warriors five, Tuah, Jebat, Lekir, Lekiu and Kasturi.

Tuah, especially, has long been credited with having provided the rallying call that always warms the cockles of the ketuanan mob.

Unfortunately, the reputation of these five as proud Malay warriors has received a bit of a setback lately, with some historians asserting that they were more fantasy figures than real ones, and others whispering – shock, horror – that they may not have been Malays after all and, may, instead, have had Chinese origins.

But all this pales in comparison to the reputation of the current chief minister, Ali Rustam, who seems to have sailed into a storm with his Malaysian Book of Records (who follows that, I wonder?) wedding feast for his son.

A feast for 130,000 people no less, which Ali says cost him ‘a mere’ RM600,000. Indeed, a feast which, according to an alleged memo, was partly ‘sponsored’ in the form of equipment and personnel belonging to the Malacca state authorities.

God-given right to use office

Such, it would seem, is the screwed up understanding of what constitutes right and wrong in this country that when this story first broke, the response by those implicated in this potential abuse of state services and personnel, was one of indignation; that the people who were raising the complaints were simply “jealous”.

Indeed, reading through the reports, one couldn’t help but feel that this person – like others in his position of power – believed that it was his God-given right to use, indeed abuse, his office, for his own gain.

This, many believe, is the depths this regime has sunk too. Indeed, it has truly sunk so low that the head of the regime had the gall even more recently to give us all a lecture on the need for leaders at all levels of society to fight corruption, at a time when whistle blowers like Rafizi Ramli and, of course, Suaram, are being harassed and intimidated by his own regime’s minions for doing just that.

What has become of accountability, we may well ask?

What, indeed, has become of shame?

Zaharom Nain, a longtime Aliran member, is a media academic based in Kuala Lumpur.

This article first appeared in Malaysiakini

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