Why Anwar's Arrest Matters for Liberty and Justice
Anwar Ibrahim's arrest, and the other events today related to it are a ridiculous mockery of our country's institutions and traditions. On Merdeka day, Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed us an independent nation "founded upon the principles of liberty and justice". Where is liberty? Where is justice?
I do not intend to deal with some of the crazy notions floating around about Anwar's guilt or innocence. Whether he is guilty or innocent is immaterial. Under our laws, under the laws of any civilised nation, under the principles all peoples and nations have agreed upon in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a man is innocent until proven guilty. Anwar has not been proven guilty; we can speculate about his potential guilt, but until this is actually proven he must be treated as an innocent man, one as free and righteous as you and me.
The simple fact is that Anwar has not been accorded the rights he deserves as a free citizen of Malaysia. We freely criticise the Americans for their inhumane treatment of prisoners in places like Guantanamo, but the way we handle our political prisoners is barely much better. The Americans will not furnish defendants with the facts of the charges against them; neither has the government here made the police report against him available to Anwar. How can a man defend himself when he does not what he is defending himself against?
Then there is the issue of intimidation. Anwar told the Police he would cooperate, even though there is no way he can prepare himself in advance for questioning when he does not even know the specifics of the allegations against him. In spite of this, officers showed up at his home and refused to leave, insisting on serving him with an order to appear before the Police and make his statement.
Anwar is of course not too happy; he refuses to show up at the appointed time, delaying his appointment to today. Call him an ass, a douchebag, a prick, whatever you like — he is a free man, and until you subpoena him or otherwise legally compel him to give his statement, you have no right to tell him what to do. Was it wise to do this? Probably not. But was it wise for the Police to intimidate a fellow willing to cooperate, in spite of their refusal to tell him what he is accused of?
The Police are of course not happy that Anwar has blown them off, and a judge grants them a warrant for Anwar's arrest if he does not show up at the police station by 2PM. So Anwar agrees to attend, of course. He heads off to an interview with the Anti-Corruption Agency, then goes home for a quick lunch at 1PM. Maybe he could have made it to the police station on time; former Anwar staff Nat Tan seems to think so. But maybe he couldn't. The only thing that matters is that Anwar shows up by 2PM.
Until the appointed hour is past, tough luck if the Police want to question him. They agreed to meet with Anwar at 2PM; the warrant was for if he did not show up at the appointed time to give his statement. There is no justification for arresting Anwar a full hour before he was due to give his statement; the Deputy Home Minister may say that such a small difference does not matter, but in that case, why couldn't the Police have waited an hour to arrest Anwar if he did not appear on time?
To Members of Parliament like Mukhriz Mahathir and Khairy Jamaluddin, this does not matter; Anwar is an ex-convict, and we can at best assume he falls somewhere in the grey area between innocent and guilty. Never mind if we violate the rights of a free Malaysian, it does not matter. Let the Police do what they want; that is justice taking its course.
What we are conveniently forgetting here is that Anwar is not guilty of sodomy; in the eyes of the law, he has never sodomised anyone before. When the courts overturned Anwar's conviction for sodomy, they erased it from his record. Yes, the judges said they personally believed Anwar was guilty. But more importantly, they stated that there is reasonable doubt; it is perfectly and equally reasonable to look at the evidence and conclude that Anwar never sodomised anyone.
Even more importantly, whether Anwar did sodomise anybody before does not matter. I might go to jail for robbing a bank; if someone else robs a bank and points the finger at me, you have no right to presume I am guilty. Anwar was not charged with buggering Saiful Bukhari Azlan; he was charged with and convicted of sodomising his driver and step-brother. He has never been convicted of sodomising Saiful, and as he has been cleared of sodomising anyone else, we have no right to assume he is at guilt now.
Maybe you don't like how the criminal justice system is supposed to work. Tough luck. A lot of us don't like how "justice" works in this country. With all the allegations flying around, how can you have confidence in our institutions?
I wish I could be as optimistic as various politicians from both sides of the partisan divide, and say we can leave it to the Police and the courts. But we can't, and we all know why. It is a known fact that the government has undue influence over the judiciary, and that the Police force is among the most corruption-ridden of our institutions.
After all, this is the same Police force with officers who will take RM2 bribes, in coins, from teenagers who commit traffic offenses. This is the same Police force which will not submit itself to the review of an independent commission on misconduct, because if the Police know someone is watching them for abuse of power, they will be demoralised and can't work effectively. What does this say about their morals, their work ethic, their professionalism?
The government may have promised to restore judicial independence, but until the actual amendments to the Constitution are passed by Parliament, this is just another empty promise. The past year has seen shocking revelations and allegations from politicians like Anwar, judges like Ian Chin — and lest we forget, it has also seen damning evidence in video form, evidence so strong that it prompted a Royal Commission to suggest a former Prime Minister and eminent judges be investigated and possibly even charged for the perversion of justice.
Let's not even talk about due process and equality before the law. How can we talk about this if our institutions blatantly disregard the notions of justice and the rule of law? How can we have regard for these principles if the Police cannot even wait an hour to bring Anwar in, if they cannot even give him the accusations against him? What due process or equality under the law can there be if the institutions we trust to protect these values have no regard for them?
So we have a rigged justice system — do we go out and riot? Vigilante justice is dangerous; it is the reason we have laws and a justice system in the first place. Revolutionary sentiment is all well and good, but it is far better if we give our country's traitors the fair trial they never gave the innocent men and women who suffered under them. The important thing at this point in time is to pressure our government and our justice system to do the right thing, to defend the principles our country was founded upon, and give every citizen, including Anwar Ibrahim, the rights and freedoms we are entitled to as citizens of Malaysia and as human beings.
Activism is not just about marching in the streets or arguing with authority figures, though these are important aspects of it. Activism is about spreading the spirit of citizenship and the spirit of liberty. Activism is telling your friends why what is going on is wrong. Activism is expressing support for citizens who are oppressed and see their basic freedoms denied, be they prominent people like Anwar Ibrahim and Raja Petra Kamarudin, or nobodies like ISA detainee Shahrial Sirin, who could not even hold his daughter one last time before her last breath because the government has detained him without even charging him for any crime for seven years. Activism is being a good citizen. Activism is patriotism.
We cannot sit by and tolerate injustice; that is the height of treason, betraying the very principles our country has committed itself to. We all have the right to liberty and justice; these are the principles our country was founded upon. When our institutions meant to protect liberty and justice fail, it is our patriotic duty to make it known that we cannot tolerate this, that we cannot sit idly as our country founders. The government must give Anwar a fair trial; it must give him the rights and freedoms he expects as a blemishless citizen of this country. If the government will not respect the liberty of a potential Prime Minister, whose rights will it protect? Yours? Mine? Liberty and justice are what our country supposedly stands for; are they too much to actually ask for?