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Killing The Robber

It was broad daylight of 1976 in George Town, Penang- Malaysia, when an emergency call was received at central police station Penang reporting a “Robbery” and police patrol called “whisky 18” was dispatched to identified location and a man in green shirt with long sleeves, was accused as robber by the two civilians aiding the “whisky 18”. The police officer instructed the accused “to stop” and “to raise his hands” and the man-in-green “stopped & raised his hands” like an obedient subject or may be the one with no option but to follow the instruction. A police officer approached the accused robber, arrested him and recovered a pistol tucked in his waist and 5 rounds of .38 bullets.

Does it sound like a terrorist arrested? A communist or a jihadi? No gun fired, no shouting or running on the street, no quarrelling. Do u feel any terror or public disorder on that Kampar road of George Town?

All this was happening in a “Security area” as declared so under Internal Security Act (ISA), 1960. IAS was enacted to provide “internal security”, “prevention of subversion”, and to suppress “organised violence” in specified areas called “security area”. While ISA was in force, there was another law in full force throughout Malaysia and called Firearms (increased penalties) Act 1971 which intended to provide increased penalties for the “use of” firearms in “commission of” certain offences.

A person has been arrested, accused of robbery, probably using his pistol and fired once during holdup –Armed robbery- and there are two laws in place to decide his future – Internal Security Act and Firearms (increased penalties) Act. The prosecutor charged this “robber” for three accounts namely armed hold-up, possession of firearm and possession of ammunitions. Possession charges were under ISA hence trialed in Penang High Court while the other was trialed separately before the Magistrate’s Court.

Shouldn’t prosecutor have thought about the scenario under which an offence is committed? Was commission of this offence really a threat or an attack on “internal security”? Was it really an act of “subversion”? Was that “robber” really such a big threat to internal security that charges were filed under ISA and not under the Firearm (increased penalties) Act? A trial under ISA means “mandatory death”, yes a “mandatory death” on conviction even if you were in possession of a simple non-functional part of a firearm or bullets, leave alone a complete working weapon. The legislature at the time of setting out the legislation should have clearly distinguished the acts presumed to be a threat to internal security and subversive. Further down, Prosecutor/Attorney General shall dutifully think if he is throwing a man to mandatory death for just possessing a weapon and not even using it in a manner causing internal security or subversive situation? When an individual is using firearms and causing a threat to internal security and terror, it’s understandable to apply provisions of ISA but to a robber?

Defence counsel, Mr. Karpal Singh, raised the very point on the suitability of legislation, however, judge Arulanandom rejected his point declaring it as a prerogative of the Prosecutor and ultimately the “robber” was convicted and sentenced to “mandatory” death. His appeal was rejected by Federal Court and subsequently, an appeal before Pardon board was also rejected thus upholding death sentence for the “robber” – Teh Cheng Poh. Teh took his counsel to file a petition before Privy Council, London and Privy Council agreed to the Karpal’s submission that Essential (security cases) regulations under which trial was conducted stand unconstitutional and thus nullified the Penang High Court trial

What was driving the Attorney General – Rule of Law, Supremacy of State or personal ego? Govt introduced new legislation to parliament giving retrospective effect to earlier regulations nullified by Privy Council and thus a “re-trial” for the “robber” and that too again under ISA to ensure “Mandatory death”.

Teh Cheng Poh’s counsel filed a civil lawsuit against Malaysian cabinet and right there is a 2nd trial. In his 2nd trial, High Court again sentenced him to death and subsequent appeals before Federal Court & Pardon board were rejected again. Teh Cheng Poh – the “robber” used every judicial forum and finally reached to gallows on 4 march 1981 leaving behind a Lawsuit pending against Malaysian cabinet. A “robber” was robbed by Govt for his “life”. A Justice is not simply bringing a case to “some” conclusion or punishing someone convicted but to ensure a “Fair & Just” trial and then equally “Fair & Just” punishment. Taking away life against the commission of a robbery is JUSTICE?