Innocent until proven otherwise, and yet…

Posted on May 30, 2013

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many-colours-one-dreamEarly 90’s, the Jalan Duta courts were then housed in wooden longhouses.

I was then just a couple of years in legal practise.

Yes, still young and naïve.

I stepped into the chambers of the senior High Court criminal court judge one day to complain about  suspects who were brought barefoot to court for their cases, their legs chained, and made to squat on the roadside outside the courts, waiting for their matters to be called up.

“Aiyah, you  so concerned about their human rights, you get into parliament and change the law, lah”, was the reply I got.

Then, about 7 years ago, whilst I was conducting a trial at the Kemaman Sessions court, the trial judge ordered the trial to be stood down for a while to enable some criminal matters to be mentioned.

Sitting at the bar table, as the suspects were led into court, I noticed that they were all barefooted.

I stood up and drew the attention of the judge to this sorry state.

She enquired of the police officer in attendance why the suspects were without foot wear.

The reply : “Ini biasa, puan hakim”.

The judge directed that the suspects be taken out, be provided with foot wear and then brought in again.

Last week, I experienced first hand what life as a suspect in the custody of the authorities is like.

Chatting with Ashok in the makeshift court room in the Jinjang lock up

Chatting with Ashok in the makeshift court room in the Jinjang lock up

On the morning of 24th May, Tian Chua, Tamrin and I were brought from our cells barefoot to the makeshift courtroom for the remand proceedings.

Yes, barefoot.

Earlier, in the cell, breakfast was served.

4  1-inch square biscuits, a plain bun and a packet of teh-O.

The evening before, I was issued a small ‘Good Morning’ hand towel that was to serve as the towel that I would be expected to dry myself off after my shower.

The cell measures about 8 feet square.

The shower and toilet are located in the cell, but above it is a CCTV camera.

I never used the towel, as I refused to suffer the indignity of stripping to shower in full view of the camera.

No pillow, no blanket, no mattress.

Just wooden strips laid into a raised cement bunk served as a bed.

My back has yet to recover from a night trying to sleep on that bunk.

Innocent until proven guilty?

Should even the guilty be treated like this?

Are we bereft of all humaneness, that we will deny another some human dignity?