Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Criminals Have Rights Too

Written by johnleemk on 2:53:12 pm Jun 30, 2007.
Categories: ,

A problem with Malaysia is its chaotic lack of the rule of law, relying instead on the rule of whatever is most convenient to those with influence.

One area this extends to is that of how we treat suspected criminals. There is a reason we have a police force, as opposed to mob rule by vigilante, but this reason seems to have eluded many Malaysians.

The other day, I saw a fight break out near an internet cafe not far from my college. Apparently the fight had been ongoing for quite a while, because by the time I saw the incident, there were three policemen armed with submachine guns watching.

The attackers ganged up on one man — for what cause I don't know — and pretty much beat the crap out of him. They then dragged him to a car and drove off. Having witnessed this, the police just shrugged, got on their motorcycles, and drove off.

It may very well be that the attackers were influential people — showing just how the rule of law has been degraded and allowed to decay. But a just as likely scenario is that their victim was someone who had done wrong, and who everyone felt was getting his just deserts.

A friend of mine who was there later told me of an incident that had happened in his neighbourhood. A man had been caught apparently burgling a house, and when the police arrived, they handcuffed him.

Before he was taken to the station, they told the burglars' potential victims to give the man a good beating while they looked away. Mob justice at work, I suppose.

But is this right? Do we only have a law enforcement body so we can have someone to do the hard work of catching criminals for us, and then allow us to punish them as we wish?

The fact is, a civilised society does not permit mob justice for very simple reasons. One is the presumption of innocence — you cannot be punished until you are proven guilty. Even the most open-and-shut case can turn out to be not that simple.

Another reason is that it is not the place of a group of sometimes angry and emotional people to decide fit punishment for a wrongdoer. We do not allow the victims of a crime to decide how its perpetrator should be punished, because they lack the objectivity to make this decision.

We cannot allow the rule of law to decay to this extent. The law exists to protect everyone, even people who may be criminals, because justice must be extended to all. Justice is the right of every human being, even the most evil and pathetic one.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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