After amputating their soul, the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the courts moved in for the kill albeit with lesser ruthlessness than is customary in politically motivated cases. But the damage has been done. I am referring to the blatant injustice perpetrated on the brave anti-ISA students who were yesterday convicted for “illegally assembly” under the Police Act and fined RM3,900 each by magistrate Azniza Mohd Ali.

The magistrate somewhat disingenuously said that they were still young with the potential to contribute to society while at the same time found them guilty and imposing a hefty fine. They certainly had the potential to contribute to society and undeniably they did on the day of the demonstration in July 2001 where despite overwhelming oppressive circumstances at their public universities and the ever-present draconian laws for such dissent, they had organised and taken part in a protest against the ISA.

The ISA and all types of detention without trial laws are universally reviled as anti-human rights, anti-rule of law and anti-democratic. Even the infamously blinkered Barisan Nasional government has recently recognised this fact and has sought to review the Act (although we can safely bet that nothing will come out of it).

For the students’ trouble, they were all expelled from their universities under the Universities and University Colleges Act. So enough with all the government’s lament over the “unemployable” and “unthinking” students coming out of our public universities; the plight of these students is an unmistakable indictment of how the BN’s destructive political culture is not only destroying the criminal justice system but also the education system — where those who adhere to the BN like parrots and lemmings will be rewarded or at the very least left alone while those who are able to think and act against injustices like detention without trial are penalised with a vengeance.

These students, once bright prospects who were then studying electrical engineering, information technology, economics, science and health have since faded away. Without graduating and paper qualifications, it has been a hard slog for them to take up any meaningful employment, no doubt made worse by the lengthy trials and appeal.

DPP Mohd Abazafree Mohd Abbas, in seeking for a deterrent sentence, shamelessly said that the court should consider the fact that public money and time of the police force had been wasted to curb the “crime” of illegal assembly. Any right-thinking person would simply dismissed that as hogwash and retort that it is the DPP and the police who have wasted public money and time by arresting and prosecuting the students over these many years for such an innocuous act.

The DPP further said that he felt sorry over what the students and society have missed out — on what they might have contributed. If he had really felt sorry, he (and other DPPs who have handled the case) should have withdrawn the charges instead of pursuing the case like he has got a promotion to chase — unrelenting over the past eight years at the magistrate’s court (where they were acquitted), appealing to the High Court (where the judge allowed the appeal) and back to the magistrate’s court (where they were finally convicted). The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.

Whilst I am not saying that all the DPPs and the police are in cahoots with the government, I think it is high time for us to draw a very clear line in politically motivated cases. It is no longer good enough for some DPPs (or police officers) who privately say that they are reluctant to pursue politically motivated cases but they are merely following orders/doing their job (Guantanamo trial prosecutors/ judges are also following orders) or to be ostensibly more cooperative and friendly. If you are carrying out orders to prosecute politically motivated cases, then you are just as bad as your political masters if not worse — as you represent a powerful public institution that is supposed to be neutral, apolitical and just.

Eric Paulsen is a researcher on refugees and statelessness. He is still contemplating whether to return to legal practice when all indicators of the state of the legal system argue that he should not.

This article was first published by The Malaysian Insider.