Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Government Confiscates My Latest Book, Where is Justice?

Written by johnleemk on 2:47:29 pm Jan 29, 2010.

As you might have heard, the authorities recently confiscated my most recent book, Where is Justice?: Death and Brutality in Custody, from bookstores in Penang and Melaka. You might be wondering what might be so worrying for the government, or why one should be interested in this book (as if the title wasn't clue enough). It's a simple answer: the big picture.

Like myself, you probably hear every now and then about custodial deaths, the most recent notable one being Teoh Beng Hock's. Maybe you notice someone's family complaining in the papers about their son being murdered, like A. Kugan's or Francis Udayappan's. And we all know that for some reason Altantuya Shaariibuu's been in the headlines a lot. But even if you follow the news dedicatedly, it's hard to get the whole story straight and get a sense of what this means.

That's why Nat and I decided to write/edit this book — to set the story straight. We (mostly I) dug through a lot of news articles, from both the mainstream and alternative media, to get exact information about what happened in four famous cases: the Inspector-General of Police's battery of Anwar Ibrahim, the murder of Altantuya, the death of A. Kugan, and the death of Teoh Beng Hock. I then sat down and wrote basically an A-to-Z outline of these cases.

Before I began working on this book, I didn't know a lot about what happened to Anwar. I only had a faint inkling of what happened in Altantuya's case, and I knew next to nothing about Kugan. The only reason I knew more about Teoh Beng Hock is because he was in the headlines. If you follow the news less actively than I do, you likely know even less.

A lot of what I learnt just from the news reports is shocking. It really makes you wonder what kind of country we live in when the most powerful police officer in the country beats a former Deputy Prime Minister to within an inch of his life, and gets away with a two-month jail sentence. The courts actually wanted to impose a harsher sentence, but the Attorney-General refused to appeal for a tougher one. In Kugan's case, there was clear evidence something happened to him — I've never seen bruises and deep cuts appear on someone's body "by accident," and even the Health Ministry has now confirmed he was tortured by the cops. And yet it's taken forever to even haul someone to court for Kugan's death, with the police obstructing every step of the way, going as far as to illegally confiscate evidence in his murder case. The latest news, hot off the presses as I write, is that because the police did not properly preserve the evidence they confiscated, it is now worthless.

I can really go on and on about the injustice which our taxes subsidise, but that's why Nat and I wrote this book. It explains to you the bare facts of these horrifying cases. And these are not controversial or in dispute at all — they have all been reported in the media, and are clearcut fact.

And lest you think these are the outliers, which don't represent the typical methods of our justice system, here is a fact reported by a Minister to Parliament: between 2003 and 2007, 1,535 people died while in government custody. When the government takes your freedom away, it takes away your responsibility to take care of yourself. It assumes that responsibility — when it holds you in jail, it is responsible for keeping you fed and healthy, because you can no longer do that for yourself. Something is terribly wrong when literally hundreds of people die while in the protection of our government, and we have a moral responsibility as taxpayers and voters to understand what is going on, and why.

Beyond the stories of these four notable individuals, Nat and I also present previously-published opinion pieces speculating on their legal implications. While these are opinions, they are all based on fact — Nat and I had the manuscript reviewed by lawyers before it went to press to confirm that nothing was seditious or defamatory. These opinions are meant to encourage you to dig further into what our government is doing, and to ask the probing questions which the facts of these cases call out for.

And there is more to come — we also compiled individual reports on custodial deaths by Suaram, one of the most notable non-governmental human rights organisations in the country. Again, all these reports are based on facts published in the newspapers. They are often short on detail, but again, this is meant to make you ask just what happened — Kugan and Teoh Beng Hock and Altantuya are lucky that their deaths were so horrific and dramatic that they cried out for justice. But there are literally hundreds of unremarked-upon deaths, waiting for someone to bring the culprits to justice.

We live in a virtual police state, with hundreds of people in detention centres and jails nationwide. Many of our most notable leaders, on both sides of the political divide, are alumni of the infamous Kamunting detention centre — supposedly a top-notch security facility for ultimate threats to our national security. We lock hundreds of people away, and many of them die — on average, two or three hundred a year. We often don't know why they die, or what has happened.

Someone needs to hold the police state accountable. A few months ago, Malaysiakini reported that in some detention centres, inmates are so malnourished that they have to eat grass to survive. They eat grass! When asked for comment, the authorities merely blamed the inmates for being too stupid to eat real food — as if anyone would willingly choose grass over proper nutrition. The only other time I've heard about Malaysians eating grass is when my older relatives reminisce about living under the Japanese occupation. What did we get independence for, if it was not so we could be free from oppression and free from tyranny?

These days, it's hard for me to stomach reading about yet another death in custody. I've seen too many photos of grieving family members in the course of my work writing this book. People are dying, almost every day, at the hand of my government, funded by my taxes.

It's sickening, but it's fact that, in some small way, I am responsible for that mother who will never have her son back, that wife who will never have her husband back, that child who will never have his father back. And this a fact that the Home Ministry and the police clearly don't want you to find out about.

The good news is, the book isn't banned. The authorities are still "studying" it to see if there is anything which may threaten national security or public order. I'm confident that it will stand on its merits. If you'd like a copy, you can order it online, or pick one up from any major bookstore nationwide. It's your civic right and duty to know what your government is doing.

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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.

Infernal Ramblings is run by John Lee. For more, see the About section. If you have any questions or comments, do drop him a line.

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