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Friday, April 30, 2010

Politics and the death of a schoolboy

By John Lee

APRIL 30 — Aminulrasyid  Amzah is barely buried, and already the political knives are out, with both Umno and Pakatan Rakyat clamouring for the right to champion justice for him and his family.
Naturally, the ostensibly non-partisan folk are coming out of the woodwork to sternly warn against “politicising” the death of this 14-year-old boy.
That, frankly, is a load of steaming cow crap. As ugly as politics is, there are far worse things for political parties to fight over than being the flag-bearer for justice.
Really, who do the police answer to anyway? The answer is simple: they answer to politicians. And for this reason, when you have cops gunning down 14-year-old boys, you can bet your butt it’s going to be a political issue.
One might be tempted to ask why we cannot sit back and let the government handle the issue. Why does the death of an, as far as we know, innocent boy have to become a political football? Because unless someone keeps the authorities on their toes, this case — like so many before it — will wind up as just a historical footnote.
How many people remember Francis Udayappan? The police claimed he escaped from their custody — even though the charges against him were already withdrawn, and he was due to be released. They claimed he jumped into the Klang River to escape, even though he couldn’t swim.
When his body was recovered, there were bruises on his legs, thighs and back. The police were outright hostile to his mother’s inquiries, and the government could not care less about his case. Even though the police contradicted their own version of events several times, the courts declared that there was no reason to suspect foul play in Francis’ death.
What about Kugan Ananthan? The police tell us he asked for a drink of water during questioning and then suddenly keeled over, completely dead — a fishy story, if I’ve ever heard one. His body was clearly bloodied and battered when his family claimed it from the morgue — and yet it took an official Health Ministry report, after much prodding and pushing, for the authorities to concede that yes, Kugan was tortured.
Even after this, the authorities have been unco-operative in investigations about Kugan’s death — to the point that they even confiscated medical samples just to prevent his post-mortem from being completed. It took a court order to force the cops to co-operate.
Now in the case of Aminulrasyid, the police claim he was trying to reverse his car into the officers pursuing him, so they had no choice but to fire. They say he had a parang in the car, which they suspected he had used in a robbery. What proof do they have of any of this?
Lest people forget, the police said Kugan was under investigation for carjackings or robberies. A lot of people immediately concluded he was a criminal (as if somehow torture or the death penalty is an acceptable sentence for car theft).
What not many realise is that the police recently told Kugan’s family they could not find any evidence at all that Kugan was complicit in any car thefts. Now the police expect us to believe a 14-year-old student is a hardened criminal?
As always, we get the same old promises from the government that Aminulrasyid will get justice — even though the authorities have fought tooth and nail to prevent cases like Kugan’s and Francis’ from ever coming before a court.
Nat Tan and I edited “Where Is Justice”, a book on custodial deaths, and the Home Ministry has simply swept it off the shelves —  because apparently scrutiny is a threat to national security. How can we trust the government to uphold its promises, when it has consistently refused to take the cause of justice seriously?
If the government won’t come down hard on the people responsible for these deaths, who is going to hold it accountable? There is no other option but the political process. Somebody needs to tell the law minister and the home minister to get their act together, because when it comes to investigating suspicious deaths, the government is clearly not meeting its KPIs.
There is no worse abuse of power than murder. Corruption is one thing, but it seems that the authorities do not even take human life seriously — and that is unconscionable. The police cannot be judge, jury and executioner. The government cannot sit idly back and promise more “investigations” that go nowhere.
When we have innocent men dying in police stations, and young boys being shot on our streets, something has gone terribly wrong — and we owe it to these innocent people to demand justice from our government.


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