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Wang Kelian: Still no justice after five years, 130 deaths

COMMENT| Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is disappointed at the government’s lack of transparency concerning the findings and decisions of the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into the Wang Kelian tragedy, where at least 130 persons died. 

The victims allegedly were from the ethnic Rohingya community of Myanmar and Bangladesh. The full RCI report must be made public immediately.

In March 2015, illegal immigrants' transit camps and 147 mass graves were discovered in Wang Kelian, Perlis. All in all, the skeletal remains of about 130 people were found.

Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin last month had said the RCI report on the Wang Kelian human trafficking incident will be submitted to the cabinet next week.

Since then, based on media reports, there has been "silence" on the part of the minister and the government.

The RCI was set up with the consent of Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Jan 29, last year. In June, it was reported that "… the final report and recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry on the discovery of transit camps and mass graves in Wang Kelian will be presented to Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah in early September…". 

According to media reports, the RCI’s 17-day inquiry did hear the evidence of 48 witnesses since April 17. 

Madpet believes the RCI report, once completed, should be made public and sent speedily to the cabinet and government for immediate action, including the prosecution of those who committed the crimes or tampered with evidence.

RCI reports in the past usually have been made public, and this raises the question of why this RCI report has yet to reach public domain.

We recall the disturbing findings following an "… exhaustive, two-year investigation by the New Straits Times Special Probes Team into the mass killings in Wang Kelian in 2015 that shook the world, has revealed startling new evidence, which suggests a massive, coordinated cover-up… One of the biggest revelations was that the human trafficking death camps had been discovered months earlier, but police only announced the discovery on May 25… (New Straits Times). 

Another huge question mark was why did the police order the destruction of these camps, which were potential crime scenes before they could be processed by forensics personnel?

One shocking discovery was that the authorities, particularly the Perlis police, knew the existence of these jungle camps in Wang Kelian in January 2015, but had allegedly chosen not to do anything about them until six months later.

According to the NST report, "A report lodged by one of the police’s own, identified as ASP JK on Jan 19, 2015, at 10.15pm, among others, stated that the raiding team saw six cages, where scores of men and women were packed inside under the watchful eyes of foreign men armed with M-16 rifles. The gunmen also conducted roving patrols around the campsite. The team moved in about 4.30pm that day and detained 38 human trafficking victims (22 Bangladeshis and 16 Myanmar nationals. 

According to the official after-action report, an estimated 150 people, who were caged up earlier, had escaped into the jungle during the raid."

How the men and women managed to “escape” the assault team remains unknown.

The report also identified a local, suffering from vitiligo — who had been acting as the middleman. Eleven more locals, whose role was to “deliver the goods”, were also identified.

The report on the Bukit Wang Burma raid stated that the local middleman, who had been detained, had admitted to "greasing the palms" of personnel in border security agencies to ensure that his operation could continue unmolested. 

“Many of these agencies are highly involved in human trafficking, and this is a serious trans-border crime that cannot be eliminated by arresting illegal immigrants and deporting them," the document stated. 

“For as long as the authorities are working hand-in-glove with these syndicates, eradicating this problem will be an uphill battle.” 

The NST Special Probes Team was let in on a March discovery of another camp in Bukit Genting Perah, known as one of the largest human trafficking camps in Wang Kelian.

This startling find was revealed by a team of highly-trained men, including commandos, who were involved in a snatch-and-grab mission.

"One by one, the commandos would grab and quickly overpower their targets, and then slip stealthily back into the cover of darkness. With all five foreign men in custody, the team regrouped and made their way down the hill."

The Wang Kelian issue also raised corruption concerns, which may involve persons tasked with enforcing the law.

What happened to the suspects who were arrested? What happened to the 38 human trafficking victims’ rescued? Why was there not a speedy trial, more so since many of these suspects were caught red-handed and the witnesses were available?

The previous BN government seems to have failed in ensuring justice be done.

The new Pakatan Harapan government, after coming into power, did act by setting up the RCI but delay in making public the final RCI report raises concern and questions.

Madpet urges a speedy investigation and prosecution of all suspects involved in crimes, among others, murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, torture, corruption, abetment, concealing design to commit an offence and tampering with evidence, would have been best – more so since it involved foreign victims. 

This should have been done speedily by the public prosecutor, police and relevant enforcement agencies. As time passes, witnesses’ memory fade and contact with some may also be lost.

No one, including public officers or politicians, should be above the law. Crime does not have any limitation, and all those persons suspected could still be charged.

There is a concern as to what happened to all the arrested suspects and all potential victim-witnesses, including those released from the cages.

The use of detention without trial laws is not only unjust but also can be a means where the truth could be hidden from the public, especially if it involves "powerful" persons and highly-ranked officials. 

Only a public trial will suffice.

Whenever the police or other enforcement agencies are involved, as is happening now in the alleged "enforced disappearance" cases of Pastor Koh and Amri Che Mat where police officers were implicated, will this be the position adopted by this new Harapan government? 

At the very least, the public prosecutor could have made a statement on the status of the investigation, even if it was a statement that no one could be charged at the moment due to insufficient evidence. 

This would appease us, knowing that Wang Kelian has not been forgotten.

Wang Kelian happened in 2015, and the new government came into power in mid-2018, which is about 20 months ago.

Madpet urges immediate publication of the RCI report. Transparency and accountability demand this. There must be no further delays or cover-ups.

We urge the public prosecutor, the police, MACC and other relevant agencies to take swift action.

Madpet also calls on the attorney-general to explain the status of the investigation and prosecution of those suspected of crimes related to the Wang Kelian case, as there is no need to wait for any RCI report or cabinet direction when it comes to enforcing the law and ensuring justice is served.

Laws should be amended to provide for the cost, including travel and board, to bring back foreign victims/witnesses, if needed, to trials of persons accused of crimes that happened in Wang Kelian. 

Non-availability of witnesses because of no "financial allocation" should never be a justification for not prosecuting perpetrators of crime.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.