Once again, the Royal Malaysia Police have embarrassed the country by issuing a frankly ridiculous ‘wanted for questioning’ alert against a respected foreign journalist who has long-since left the country after having interviewed UMNO’s Number 2.
The interview of Tok Mat by the veteran British freelance journalist Nick Kochan for the Asia Times caused quite a stir last week after he quoted the UMNO Deputy President saying what everyone the world over, including behind the scenes in UMNO, thinks. That Najib should face his sentence.
Hinting nonetheless that his party would do their best to get Najib out of his very long jail sentences as soon as it could, the politician acknowledged that the kleptocrat must be seen to at least pay some of his dues before any ‘pardon’ could be considered.
After all, Malaysia is a country that issues harsh penalties to petty thieves and still has an electorate to answer to:
“Everybody has to pay their dues. But if we want to pardon, he (Najib) has to go through the process. He’ll have to go inside first.
“You cannot pardon him before he goes through the process. That is wrong, that is absolutely wrong.” [Asia Times]
How right of Tok Mat to say so, as Najib continues to embarrass his party by strutting around as its leading light whilst at the same time doing everything he can to delay and evade the punishments due for his convictions.
Where the UMNO heavyweight got it wrong (deliberately doubtless) was in blaming 1MDB alone for his party’s trouncing at the polls in GE14.
He admits that UMNO didn’t realise at the time just how damaging the scandal was and thus neglected to own up to the issue or to deal with Najib as it should have. However, that very failure to recognise the problem was symptomatic of the far wider and deeper malaise within the party.
Politically, Tok Mat is right that the smart way forward for UMNO is to put all the blame on the ex-PM and attempt to present a fresh slate for GE15. He is right to be concerned that instead of cleaning up the party and ejecting Najib as the emblem of those problems, UMNO have kept their dirty old guard in place; bought their way back to power and campaigned to re-habilitate the ex-PM and keep him out of jail. Pure poison for the polls.
Yet, as the hard home truth hit the news media in Malaysia (and as Kochan hit the trail home) the same gang of naysayers and Najib camp-followers erupted into a baying chorus of anger and denial. How dare a politician have his view or suggest that Najib should face the sentence handed out in court?
It is a sad reflection on the state of UMNO that Tok Mat was soon scrabbling to backtrack on his remarks with the lame old excuse that he had been ‘quoted out of context‘.
It is even sadder that within hours the Malaysian police force predictably embarked on its ludicrous attempt at vilification and intimidation against the departed foreign journalist – or, more to the point, other local journalists who might think to repeat the quote.
Nick Kochan is now, according to the Royal Malaysian Police force, ‘wanted for questioning’ over two alleged ‘crimes’. As stated in Malaysiakini these are”
“under Section 505(C) of the Penal Code for “statements conducing to public mischief” and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act for “improper use of network facilities or network services”.
This for having reported the stated and perfectly valid viewpoint of a senior politician that sentences given out by the courts of the country should be seen to be implemented, even in the case of the rich and powerful, in order to main public confidence in the ruling party.
Mr Kochan and the Asia Times have duly posted the full recorded interview online to prove the accuracy of the quote and context. Meanwhile, the British journalist has achieved the ultimate souvenir from his visit to ‘Barmy Malaysia’, a Wanted Notice to place in the proverbial downstairs loo to amuse his guests.
For those left behind however, the episode represents a sad new low for media freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Malaysia.