Malaysiakini Letter

No immunity

K Temoc  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I have titled my letter ‘No immunity’ for good reasons, and none has to do with the case of Warrant Officer Muhammad Rizalman Ismail, our Malaysian diplomat in Wellington accused of alleged sexual assault of a 21-year old New Zealand woman and burglary.

On balance I believe he would be better off standing trial in New Zealand rather than in Malaysia where he will be accorded due legal process, something he is not likely to receive from the majority of the Malaysian public.

From comments read on Malaysian news media’s interactive forums, Muhammad Rizalman has already been found guilty several times over by the readers unless and until he may be proven innocent. It’s fortunate for him that the Malaysian government has waived diplomatic immunity and will be sending him to New Zealand to stand trial for his alleged crimes.

Indeed, it would be even more dreadful if the proposed military Board of Inquiry were to assess in its investigation that he has been innocent of the accusations and recommend he be not subjected to stand trial for those charges in either Malaysian or a New Zealander court, for surely by then his guilt as already determined by many Malaysians would have escalated by several horrendous degrees, regardless of the facts, evidence and circumstances.

Such has been the vicious vile vigilante justice system prevailing in the public arena, sadly as an outcome of the irreparable political schism confronting our nation for the last several years.

We have already witnessed such mindless toxicity where those seen, rightly or wrongly, to be allegedly pro establishment would be condemned as guilty of various ‘crimes’ and/or 'misdemeanours' and even abused on the Internet, while those perceived as allegedly anti-establishment would be hailed as righteous heroes.

Examples of the former would be Michelle Yeoh and Lee Lam Thye who in the eyes of their critics have the effrontery and temerity to experiment with the concept of free association.

A recent example of the latter would be an air force officer who had himself openly admitted he violated military standing instructions but who would like to retain his military pension if discharged from his service, but nonetheless who has been preemptively (prior to any due process) pronounced by our vigilante committee as not only guiltless but a hero.

It’s a sad outcome of the ‘George W Bush’ bullying mentality of “either you’re with us or against us”, and damn anyone if he or she chooses to exercise freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom of choice unless these exercises are in favour of their accusers’ side. And the ironical comedy is that the people who have been screaming for such freedoms are the very ones denying others what they have advocated.

To compound the issues surrounding the accusations against Warrant Officer Muhammad Rizalman Ismail we have firstly, in an admittance by the New Zealand foreign affairs authority, that they themselves might have given grounds for some misunderstanding leading to the withdrawal of our involved diplomat, and secondly, an unseemly allegation by Anwar Ibrahim that the Malaysian government has attempted to cover up the incident. Unfortunately for Anwar Ibrahim, the New Zealand Foreign Office admittance has undermined his accusation.

Case of Indian consular officer

Incidentally, on misusing diplomatic immunity to protect wrong doings by diplomats, the United States of America (USA) has been the greatest culprit of all and thus in the following case of an Indian consular officer, most hypocritical.

If we have been following the very recent issues surrounding an Indian consular official in the USA, Devyani Khobragade, we would know that notwithstanding her diplomatic status, she was reportedly detained by US police, handcuffed, strip-searched, DNA swabbed and held in a federal holding cell in New York.

She was arrested on charges relating to allegations of non-payment of minimum wage in accordance with US laws, and for fraudulently lying about the wages to be paid on a visa application for her domestic worker.

Hasn’t her treatment been way over the top even if she was without diplomatic status and found wrong?

Yet when it came to a US marine corp officer on diplomatic mission some years ago in Bucharest, Romania, who with an alcoholic reading of 0.09 percent drove his car through a red traffic light, hit a taxi, and killed (yes, killed) the popular Romanian musician Teo Peter, the USA lifted him out of Romania and refused to waive diplomatic immunity for him to be put on trial in the country of his crime.

Likewise, American diplomats in Kenya and Pakistan, where the former killed a  local in a traffic accident and the latter a CIA officer shooting and killing two Pakistanis and in a separate incident, another American diplomat killed a Pakistani in a road accident, were swiftly removed from the two countries.

Hmmm, maybe the USA reckoned killing foreigners was not a crime, unlike a foreigner underpaying a domestic help in New York. I wonder how Erich Segal would have felt to see his immortal lines paraphrased as “Being powerful means never having to say you’re sorry”.

Perhaps the most bizarre case of diplomatic immunity was witnessed by, coincidentally, a former New Zealand diplomat in Sri Lanka, Gerald Hensley.

Hensley’s story of an incident in 1979 in Sri Lanka was published by Wikipedia as follows:

“The Burmese (now Myanmar) ambassador to Sri Lanka shot his wife as she got out of the car after seeing a player in a night-club band of whom she was enamoured. The next morning, his neighbours were surprised to see the ambassador building a pyre on the back lawn. When the police were called, the ambassador opened the metal front gates just enough to say that there was no trouble and to remind them that his house was Burmese territory. Then he went back to work.

“The houses around his long back garden were now alive with fascinated spectators as he emerged with the body of his wife, placed it on the pyre and set it alight. He was well-connected at home but after an awkward interval he was recalled.”

I suppose that made it easier for that Burmese ambassador to sweep ‘his wrongdoings’ under the carpet.

Driver of NZ premier’s car fined

Anyway, back to New Zealand - this has been a country which would fine the driver of the prime minister’s car and the two police outriders for speeding, even when former PM Helen Clark was in that over-speeding car. The police had calculated the distance between two points and found that the PM’s car could arrive at the destination by the given time only if the PM’s convoy had been over-speeding.

In that incident I am somewhat comforted that Warrant Officer Muhammad Rizalman Ismail will receive just and due process in New Zealand, unlike that Indian consular officer in New York, or from Malaysians in his country.

Vile and premature condemnations of him as guilty of unspeakable crimes is a horrifying indication that many Malaysians have lamentably considered even our military as their enemy, as they already have done with the police, unless of course any member of the military or police criticise the government and/or institutions perceived as pro-establishment.

But in the end, let us all remember it’s an axiom of legal justice that an accused is innocent until proven guilty, by facts and evidence, and not by political hatred nor emotional subjectivity.

Thus, rather than argue about diplomatic immunity, what about some immunity in due process from political hatred, prejudice and irrational emotions?


K TEMOC is a Penangite who enjoys being an independent blogger and loves to share his opinion on Malaysian and world affairs without fear or favour, though currently is politically inclined towards DAP, only because the political party has thus far shown faithfulness to its promise of competency, accountability and transparency.

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