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Is Zunar’s arrest sheer abuse of power?

COMMENT This is sheer madness, and I find it hard to believe that a police officer could allegedly openly abuse his power by arresting civil activist Lawrence Jayaraj, DAP member Jimmy Wong and two other guests during a private function organised for political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque.

As far as I know, Zulkiflee, who is better known by his pen name Zunar, is a well-loved cartoonist with a strong spirit to fight against injustice in this country. His events are often well-attended by his fans from a wide spectrum of society.

We are, in fact, talking about an artist who has won numerous accolades overseas for his masterpieces, something which I also admire greatly, especially since he became well-known lately with the nine charges against him.

Sometimes I am even jealous of his great influence. While I am just an ordinary writer, trying to right what is wrong (yet getting all the brickbats from the readers for trying to be fair to the bad guys), Zunar has very powerful influence on his fans, myself included! Rather than throwing brickbats at him, I always enjoy a good laugh when I look at how he depict certain characters.

When it was suggested that he should just focus on drawing Donald Duck, Zunar obliged by coming out with his version of Donald Dedak (which I thought was really creative), and for this, his Dedak T-shirts were confiscated. If this is not political harassment, I wonder what it is!

As far as I know, the event featuring Zunar was only a simple high tea for which people were willing to pay RM50 to attend in order to raise funds to help him with his legal fees, yet the way that the police raided the premises was truly uncalled for.

By largely targeting this one man, they are basically trying to break his spirit. I personally believe that with each incident like what happened yesterday, it only serves to help advancing Zunar’s cause as a political cartoonist and increase his level of personal branding.

The evidence is there for the public to judge how the raid was conducted by an unnamed officer. The police will undoubtedly try to defend that their man did the right thing, but looking at the video clip repeatedly, I beg to differ.

In fact, if this is allowed to continue, we are allowing what remains of our parliamentary democracy to be further destroyed.

Sometimes, I question how the police can justify that they are investigating a people’s elected representative for actions that are allegedly detrimental to parliamentary democracy, if in the first place, they had failed to treat a parliamentarian with the respect due to these Yang Berhormats who represent the people. In retrospect, how would a police officer feel if they are not being addressed as Tuan?

This is why as a civilian, when I saw the way the officer conducted the raid, I have to express my disgust with the way he had carried out his duty. The officer had no reason to overstep the boundaries. His words, “Please lah, you don’t... I tell you, I will arrest you” are enough to put his actions in a bad light. And the words that followed were anything but a policeman behaving professionally.

No obstruction

Throughout the raid, there was not even an iota of doubt that no one had obstructed a civil servant from carrying out his duty, but I could see that the police officer had erred when he asked his men to nab the man in a white T-shirt for asking the right questions.

It is good that the video has put things into perspective so that there is no dispute; in fact, the police should produce their version of the raid, so that we could see whether the raid had been conducted professionally.

It goes without saying that the public in any part of the world is and will always be on the side of the victims rather than on the side of the people with authority. Even without the video evidence, we would still be on the side of the victim.

After viewing the video, the excuse that the civilian in the white T-shirt was “obstructing him in carrying out his duty” does not hold water. The words and actions on the part of the raiding officer have come under the spotlight.

Running through the conversation time and again, what I could hear was simply the man asking the officer why he was not allowed to be there at the event. It was a private function. In fact, his explanation for his presence at the function to the officer was crystal clear - that they were not obstructing the police.

The police had a free hand throughout the entire raid. What obstruction are we therefore talking about? Did anyone in fact push any of the officers the way red-shirt leader Jamal Md Yunos allegedly did, when he was restrained from leaving a shopping mall recently?

Was he not obstructing the police who were carrying out their duty? Why was the red-shirt leader not immediately arrested for creating a big commotion that affected the business community in the mall? He alleged that the police had hit him. Why was he hit unless he had resisted the constraints set up the boys in blue?

Back to the ‘arrest’ of the man in the white T-shirt, as far as civil society is concerned, it was well within the rights of the citizen concerned - in fact, of any citizen for the matter - to question any police officer of his actions, especially since this involved a private function within a private building.

Do not forget that this is a country where the democratic rights of the citizens are enshrined under the Federal Constitution, and we must never allow the police or any man in uniform to act as though they have the authority to arrest anyone who questions their action.

My late father used to tell me that there are procedures to be followed, too. For example, a person who is being detained under such circumstances must be told why he was being apprehended or asked to leave the building.

For the officer to resort to saying, “I tell you, I will arrest you”, it is like Julius Caesar saying, “I come, I see, I conquered.” One could well understand these words had come from Caesar, but for a police officer to threaten to arrest a civilian for asking a question was already wrong by any measure.

It is no wonder that for complaints against the police force between 2005 and 2012, it has been found that only seven percent of such complaints had reached a courtroom, while over half the cases are yet to be fully investigated. The data speaks for itself.

This is the failure of the government during former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (and presently, under Najib Abdul Razak) to take the necessary actions to push for reform within the police force, despite the recommendations made by the Royal Commission of Inquiry.

This is the problem when there is no Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) set up to investigate the errant officers. Disciplinary actions taken against such errant officers are nothing but a slap on the wrist, so we are continuing to see abuses of power.

If we are serious about seeing parliamentary democracy being further strengthened, such high-handed treatment should be stopped immediately. We cannot allow the country to descend further into becoming a police state. A police state is detrimental to parliamentary democracy.

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