Waiting for Justice
Sabri Zain <email@example.com>
"...my pleas, as we all know, fell on deaf ears....in the end, justice is not done
because you have a better pleader or a better judge. Justice is not even done because you
have better laws. These things are undoubtedly important."
"But far more important than any of these is that society as a whole believes
passionately that every human being deserves to be treated justly, that when one human
being is manifestly denied justice, then we are in real danger of being denied it."
"And justice cannot be done hastily. And justice cannot be done in the dark."
"It has to be done with due deliberation, in full view of the people in whose name it
is done. For it is done for them."
- Tun Salleh Abas, Former Chief Justice and Lord President of Malaysia
(from the book with K Das, May Day For Justice)
The historic heart of modern Malaysia is perhaps Dataran Merdeka - Independence Square. On
its hallowed ground, at the stroke of midnight, on August 31st, forty one years ago, the
flag of a new nation was raised here - a nation that could elect its own law makers and
make its own laws. Looking down on this field, atop a hill, like an omnipotent
sentinel, is Bukit Aman - The Hill of Peace - on which sits the headquarters of the Royal
Malaysian Police - the institution that enforces those laws.
And skirting the opposite side of the Independence Square are the Moghul-style buildings
that house the institutions that mete out justice according to those laws - our courts of
law. Among them is the Sultan Abdul Samad building, right in the centre of the Dataran,
and today, the centre of the country's most historic trial.
Friday, November the 13th, 1998, was to be the last day of the trial of ousted deputy
premier Anwar Ibrahim on four charges of corruption - before the courts took a break for
the APEC meeting. For days since the trial had begun on November 2, hundreds had thronged
the courts to be part of Malaysia's Trial of the Century. That day, I wanted to be
one of them.
I arrived at just before 7 a.m. - the Sultan Abdul Samad building was still cloaked in the
velvet darkness of the early morning and the traffic was light. A sign at the iron gate
underneath the porte-cochere entrance porch stated "PP LWN DATO' SERI ANWAR
IBRAHIM - Cuma peguam yang ada dalam rekod mahkamah sebagai peguam mewakili Dato'
Seri Anwar Ibrahim diberi keutamaan masuk. Arahan YAA."
In front of the iron gate, even at that ungodly hour (for me anyway!) there was already a
queue of at least fifty people standing in line at the entrance. My heart sank.
It was a mixed group of anxious watchers of justice. There were old and young -
immediately in front of me was an elderly Indian pensioner, behind me was a young Malay
office worker. A well-dressed middle-aged gentleman with an attaché case checked the
latest stock market reports from his morning papers. Immediately behind him was a young
student wearing a Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Faculty t-shirt, talking to an
elderly Malay gentleman wearing a faded batik shirt and clutching a plastic container of
Milo. There were a few foreigners in dark suits clutching APEC conference bags and,
further behind me, a group of young lawyers poring through their client briefs.
A small group of journalists - foreign and local - were loitering under the porch,
including a TV crew from, of all places, the Republic of China. I managed to say a quick
"Hi!" to John Sweeney as he walked past us on his way to the rear entrance where
the registered press were allowed to enter. John was the Observer journalist who wrote
story of the press conference where our Inspector General of Police told him to "shut
up" and "come to my room." I wondered if they had reserved a special room
for John in the court as well.
At 7:30, the FRU trucks started arriving and the police started filing out - groups of
three red-helmeted FRU officers situated about twenty paces apart along the whole
perimeter of Dataran Merdeka and the Sultan Abdul Samad building. The heavy police
presence took me back to the night of October 10th when, under that same porch, senior
officers and demonstrators had heated negotiations trying to settle a standoff between
water cannon and 5,000 demonstrators. So much history, in such a short space of time, in
that one place, I thought to myself.
The trial proper was only going to start at 9.00. Some people killed time by reading. One
young man was immersed in a pamphlet with the interesting title of "Hitler and the
Wandering Jew" - but most were reading the papers, probably catching up with
developments in court yesterday. One poor chap in the queue was reading Thursday';s
copy of Utusan Malaysia and another person behind him started haranguing him
about how the paper was "penabur fitnah" and urging him to stop buying it. The
chap pleaded innocence by saying he only bought it on Thursdays for its Computer pull-out.
But most people just stood around bored - and eventually talked with people around them.
Pretty soon, little discussion groups started forming along the length of the queue,
debating everything from the independence of the judiciary to Ummi Hafilda';s
My little group started discussing the reasons why they were here. Some of them were here
for the first time, others were relative 'veterans'. "I've been here
almost every day since the trial began," said the Malay gentleman with the faded
batik shirt and Milo. "Sometimes I managed to get in, but most times I can';t.
I'm just here to show my support for Brother Anwar. Even if I can't get in, at
least, I'm here in the queue."
He then went on about the demonstrations. "I thinks the demos were good. They showed
';Mahazalim'; that people are angry with what he had done. But the police were
rough with us in Kampong Baru and it frightened a lot of people.'They' had to
use violence and fear to silence the people. That is not a sign of good government,";
He then proposed a novel idea. "I've been standing in this queue for almost two
weeks now, along with hundreds of other people. The police don't 'kacau' us
because the courts say we can wait to go in, to see justice done. Why don't those
thousands of demonstrators join us one morning? We can have a line with thousands of
people, with a queue that will stretch across to Mesjid Negara even." he pointed to
"That will show 'them' on top of the hill that we all only want justice -
There were hoots of approval from those around us. "Why don't they consider
*this* an illegal assembly?"; somebody asked.
The Indian pensioner in front of me volunteered another idea. "They should put
broadcast the trial on TV. Let all Malaysians see justice being done. Why don';t they?
Do they have something to hide?" The office worker behind me even suggested holding
the trial at PWTC. "They can even charge if they wanted! Thousands will still come.
We can donate
proceeds to the 'Save The Nation Fund' - tak payah kebas duit EPF kita!";
To peals of laughter, the office worker suggested the money be used to buy even more
designer clothes for Ummi Hafilda. "She"s sure to run out of outfits before the
hearings end!"; he quipped.
He added that he was here to see for himself what was happening. ";I don';t
believe what I read in the papers. They just highlight what the government wants them to
highlight. I read on the international news websites that the SB chief admits he may lie
in court. But the local papers report the SB chief says he believes the sex charges -
tak sebut pasal nak atau tak nak tipu mahkamah. Macam mana nak percaya ni?";
A young, attractive Punjabi lawyer behind us started criticising the defence team';s
strategy. ";The defence team only has to show that there is no physical evidence
proving the alleged corruption took place and discredit the evidence in the form of
testimony from the witnesses. So far they have only focused on discrediting the testimony
and going on
and on about this conspiracy theory. They should have challenged the first witness to
produce evidence of written instructions or proof of meetings - but they didn';t. They
missed a golden chance there.";
Someone else remarked that the Anwar team probably wanted to highlight the bigger picture
of political conspiracy to the public. The young lawyer disagreed. ";They should just
focus on proving Anwar innocent. We can worry about the politics once he';s out of
An elderly Malay lady said she came to court to look into Anwar';s eyes. ";I can
tell if someone is innocent or guilty just by looking into the person';s eyes!";
she boasted. The Malay gentleman behind her quipped, ";Maybe you should teach the
judge how to do that - it would save everyone a lot of trouble!";
The lady admitted she was very confused by everything that was happening. ";I
don';t know if he is guilty or innocent. But even if he is guilty, I don';t
understand why they are treating him like this. Our leaders coming out with so much filth
in the papers. Memalukan
keluarganya dan memalukan bangsa kita.";
She turned to the Indian pensioner. ";We Malays don';t usually treat people like
this. ';Maruah'; is very important to us. Even the guilty deserve dignity.
It';s in the Sejarah Melayu. But our leaders don';t seem to understand
this. This is not the Malay way. That is why so many of us are angry.";
A Chinese gentlemen interjected. ";I believe Anwar is innocent - until the court
proves otherwise. That is the basis of justice and rule of law - a man is innocent until
proven guilty by a court of law. But look at that ...";. He pointed to the headline of
a local English daily that morning. ";They';ve already found him guilty.
What';s the use of us queuing here for hours waiting for justice?";
I liked his phrase. Waiting for justice. I made a mental note to use it as the title for
my next article.
By then, it was already 8:30. The rush hour traffic was busier now, with hundreds of
curious drivers and bus passengers gawking at our ever-increasing line of people. It was
as though there were looking at some terrible road accident or a dying road casualty.
There was a small stir when we spotted someone crossing the road towards the court
building. It was the Special Rapporteur on Judicial Independence for the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights - Param Cumaraswamy. There was an even bigger stir when we
spotted him storming out of the building, looking rather annoyed. I asked a reporter
friend of mine who was hovering nearby what had happened.
";They wouldn';t let him into court,"; he said. ";The United Nations
appoints this one man - a Malaysian - as their sole representative in ensuring the
independence of legal institutions worldwide, he has sat in court houses in Cambodia, El
Salvador, Haiti and Rwanda - and they won';t even let him enter a court in his own
country. Ironic isn';t it?";
I stopped myself from letting out a cheer of ";Malaysia Boleh!";. It wouldn';t
have seemed appropriate in front of a foreign journalist.
This journalist also excitedly told my little group about his last interview - with Nurul
Izzah, Anwar';s daughter. While she had taken a few days off from university classes
to see her father in prison, a government official had apparently given a ';talk';
to the other students
about ';current political developments'; and forbade people from talking to her.
Nurul Izzah returned to university finding a stony silence from everyone. She became so
miserable, her mother took her back home and she was forced to take a semester';s
leave from classes.
It seems as though the father is not the only one to be sentenced.
The discussions around our little group turned to APEC - the office worker was wondering
why the trial had to be adjourned during APEC. There was general consensus that there
would be disruption - though we couldn';t agree if the trial would disrupt APEC
discussions or if the APEC members would disrupt trial deliberations. ";The sight of
Clinton and Joseph Estrada queuing up behind us in front of the court building might look
rather embarrassing for the government, "; I noted.
Someone brought up the subject of demos during APEC and offered some tips. ";Next time
you go ';shopping'; in Jalan TAR, make sure you actually buy something and keep
the shopping bag and receipt with the date on it. It';d be easier to prove in court
you were there just to shop!";
With all the heated discussions, we hadn';t realised it was nearly 9:00 - until
someone spotted the now-famous leading defence lawyer Christopher Fernando walk by. The
little clumps of discussion groups now quickly formed back into a neat straight line, all
of craning our necks towards the front to see if they were letting people in yet. In a few
moments, the gates were indeed opened - but only a handful of five or six people
managed to gain entry.
There was a loud groan from the crowd as a small, handwritten was tied to the gate -
";HARAP MAAF - SUDAH PENUH";
Not wanting the morning to be a complete waste, I decided to hang around the porch area
with some of my journalist buddies - and found that hanging around outside the court was
probably as informative as being inside it. It was fortunate that a lot of the defence
team were smokers. Everytime one of them left the courtroom for a cigarette break, they
would be swarmed by reporters from the other side of the corridor grill
- and you would get pretty frequent, up-to-the-minute blow-by-blow descriptions of what
was happening inside.
I had a chat with one local journalist, who assured me that she and her team did their
best to remain impartial in their coverage of the trial. ";For example, we try not to
mention his name - we always refer to him as ';the accused';. And we avoid words
that imply either guilt or innocence - we make sure that statements are either
';claimed'; or ';alleged';,"; she
";And we certainly won';t come out with headlines like *that*,"; she remarked,
pointing at the front page of a local English broadsheet.
But she admitted that her stories do get ';changed';. ";';Turned
over';, you mean,"; I thought to myself.
It was nearing noon and I decided to go to the rear entrance of the court building to
catch sight of the ';accused'; leaving. A small group of on-lookers had gathered
there, by the banks of the river, and speculation was rife as to why it was taking them so
long to leave - the court was supposed to adjourn at 11:30 and it was already past 12.
Someone remarked that they were going to be late for Friday prayers if they didn';t
hurry up and someone else wondered if they would take Anwar to a mosque nearby, since it
was already late. ";I hope they don';t take him to the Jamek mosque,"; he
added, ";They';ll probably make us queue to get in there as well!";
A long column of FRU were already deployed along the road and they started moving people
away from the front of the entrance. The crowd was dispersed to further down the road - up
to a point where Anwar probably wouldn';t be able see them when he was driven off.
";Encik ada hal di mahkamah?"; they asked individuals gathered there. ";Kalau
tak ada, pergilah ....";
Funnily, the officers ignored me - everyone else was asked to go. They didn't even come up
to me when they were checking the press photographer's press tags. This was probably
because I was dressed like a lawyer - I had put on my best white shirt and dark jacket,
and had a clutch ILBS law books in my arm! (Particularly prominently displayed was my copy
of the ';Prevention of Corruption Act 1961 (Act 57) & Emergency
(Essential Powers) ordinance No. 22 1970';!). For a few moments, I cut a lone figure
among the press photographers and policemen at the front entrance. I was even more nervous
when there were suddenly a great number of very tough-looking, muscular
';civilians'; around me - and the police didn';t seem bothered about
Soon after, the ';accused'; appeared - and was whisked into a dark blue Pajero (
for the benefit of all you empat nombor ekor ghouls, the registration number was WEJ
3959!). At that precise moment, there was a loud road roar of ";Allahu Akbar!";,
followed by an even louder shout of ";Reformasi!";. The cheers did not come from
my little group of on-lookers
but from a crowd of about a few hundred people who had gathered, unnoticed, in the Jamek
mosque across the river.
As the blue Pajero sped off towards Dataran Merdeka, the crowd of demonstrators continued
shouting and cheering, with the long row of FRU officers just glaring angrily at them from
the opposite bank. It was a dramatic end to what was, up to then, a pretty quiet morning.
I had spent at least two hours of the early part of the morning queuing up for justice,
along with at least a hundred other people. Except for a handful of us, it was futile. We
all knew it was futile, but we stayed and, in the process, we learnt from each other a
little about that precious justice that we were all waiting for.
And we showed others why we were there. ";... society as a whole (must believe)
passionately that every human being deserves to be treated justly, that when one human
being is manifestly denied justice, then we are in real danger of being denied it.";
";And justice cannot be done hastily. And justice cannot be done in the dark.";
";It has to be done with due deliberation, in full view of the people in whose name it
is done. For it is done for them.";
BERITA REFORMASI di http://reformnews.cjb.net
"For God knows the Truth and to Him do we return."
- 'Sejarah Melayu' at http://malaya.cjb.net
"They invade our space and we fall back.
They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back.
NEVER AGAIN, THE LINE MUST BE DRAWN HERE!"
-Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek 'First Contact'