The on-going allegations by the former prime minister against the current Prime Minister, when rid of all its political trappings, do summon attention to important issues such as the freedom of speech and of information, freedom of the press, corruption, accountability, and the like.
In addition to drawing attention to what is currently taking place, it has also rekindled discussion of the numerous deeds and misdeeds of the government under more than 2 decades of the previous leadership. A number of commentators have already pointed out that, while Malaysians support the call for greater freedom, it is ironic that this call should come from the very person who placed tight and suffocating shackles on various forms of freedom during his time, and who was responsible for developing and fostering an environment steeped in intolerance and fear.
The system and the environment that the former prime minister now vehemently attacks are not the new creation of the present Prime Minister. The current leadership in the last 3 years has to some extent loosened a few of the handcuffs on society inherited from before. The proper criticism should be that not enough is being done to quickly undo all the wrongs committed in the past in various areas of governance.
One colossal mistake of yesteryears that has brought disastrous damage to democracy and the rule of law in this country, and one which the Malaysian Bar has for many years stood firmly against, is the shameful episodes that took place in 1988, when the institution of the Judiciary was unjustifiably but successfully attacked by the Executive, resulting in the glaringly unfair and unceremonious dismissal of 3 of our top judges, injuring many more.
Those were the darkest days for the Malaysian Judiciary. Those were the sickest hours of Executive incursion into the Judiciary. The concept of separation of powers was discarded like a piece of dirty tissue. The independence of the Judiciary was trampled upon like some disused doormat. Those shameful events have left gaping wounds in the Malaysian society, from which we are yet to fully recover.
The wounds have neither healed nor closed. Society has suffered, and will continue to suffer, from the gross injustice some 18 years ago, that has given birth to other injustices. Our justice system is not what it once was. It is time to right the wrongs of the past. We can undo the damage caused, but only if we confront and deal with the errors of the past, no matter how painful the process may prove. It will do us no good if we continue to sweep things under the carpet, and pretend that calamity never struck.
The Bar Council calls upon the Government to take immediate steps to cause a thorough and impartial re-examination of the events of 1988 to be carried out, with the view to uncovering the truth, leaving no stone unturned, correcting the errors and injustices perpetrated, and restoring the honour of the judges who for no more than asserting their independence were so cruelly sacrificed at the altar of political power play. It is time to return to them the good name they never deserved to lose, and to make amends for what they had lost for no fault of their own.
This is absolutely crucial, not just for those judges and others who have suffered at the unseen hands of the perversion of justice. This is equally important for the institution of the Judiciary, and indeed for the nation as a whole. History requires the truth, and society demands what is just.
If an independent Judiciary can be savagely destroyed, and if those who engineered or allowed the destruction can get away with it forever, then the rest of society has little hope for justice.
Yeo Yang Poh
15 August 2006