On 11 July, the top court in Malaysia – the Federal Court – gave Seputeh MP Teresa Kok the victory in her lawsuit battle against the Government.
The Federal Court also ordered the Government to pay her RM350,000 to compensate for what happened to her nearly 10 years ago – RM200,000 for general and RM150,000 in aggravated and exemplary damages to Teresa, who is also the DAP National Vice Chairman. Later, she was also awarded another RM70,000 in costs.
“I am relieved and happy it is all over.” – said Teresa Kok on Free Malaysia Today
Finally, Teresa can perhaps have closure to the series of nightmarish events that began with a wrongful accusation in 2008….
Teresa was arrested under ISA when she was accused of telling a mosque to lower their loudspeaker volume
On 12 September at 1pm, Teresa Kok was making her way home after formal functions, when two cars stopped her vehicle:
“One stopped behind my car, the other stopped in front of me. I felt like I was being kidnapped. They knocked on my window, told me to come out and said that I was being arrested under the ISA.” – quoted from The Star
The cops detained her for seven days and barred her from contacting her lawyer or relatives. On top of that, they wouldn’t tell her why she was being held. Throughout the arrest she was only questioned twice and on one of the days, she was given only boiled eggs, gravy and some cucumber for lunch and dinner. Initially, she was not given any reading material but later on she was given a Bible after she requested for something and also newspapers. She was also allowed some exercise and had to return to her cell at 5.30pm daily.
Teresa later learned that she was detained under the (now-abolished) Internal Security Act’s Section 73(1) because she was considered a potential threat to national security for ‘racial incitement’ over a mosque incident…
You see, on 10 September, Utusan claimed that Teresa told mosques and suraus around Kota Damansara, Sri Serdang and Puchong Jaya to lower their loudspeaker volume during the azan. The MP denied the allegations, stating in her blog that the article written by Zaini Hassan “cited untruths by Khir Toyo” [P/S: Khir Toyo was the Opposition leader of Selangor at the time after BN lost the state to PKR].
“Oh my God, bila saya pergi ke surau Puchong pada awal pagi? Saya biasanya bangun selepas pukul 7 pagi, buat apa saya pergi ke surau Puchong pada awal pagi? Sebenarnya, sampai sekarang, saya pun tidak tahu di mana letaknya surau tersebut.” – Teresa Kok on her blog
It was later discovered that a faulty PA system was the reason for the ‘silent’ azan, not pressure from anybody, mosque officials clarified. The mosque administrator, as well as the petitioners, confirmed that she was not involved in the petition.
In October, Khir Toyo denied mentioning her name, claiming it was Utusan who chose to report it that way. He also claimed he had merely said that Teresa’s office acknowledge receiving a petition on the mosque loudspeaker volume (so it’s not even that her office initiated this). But actually the petition only requested the mosque lower its volume during ceramahs, not the azan. He also publicly apologised to her in 2013 to avoid a lawsuit.
But she sued the Home Minister, IGP, Special Branch senior cop and the Government
For being denied her constitutional rights, suffering mental anguish (at one point they told her they might extend her detention to 28 days!!) and food poisoning, Teresa sued then Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, then Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Musa Hassan, Special Branch Senior Officer DSP E Kim Tien and the Government on 13 March 2009.
So the court battle began… This was how the Government’s lawyer Lailawati Ali argued their case:
“The investigating officer, based on the grounds of the two ‘azan’ issues, the petition to remove Jawi signs and SMS links, arrested her in 2008. The arresting officer said detention under Section 73(1) of the ISA was necessary in order to carry out investigations.” – Lailawati Ali, Government lawyer, Free Malaysia Today
But Teresa’s lawyer Sankara Nair argued that firstly, no evidence was presented (in court) to show that she was involved in activities detrimental to public safety. Secondly, the police did not find evidence over her alleged involvement in an azan volume protest or removing of Jawi signage. Thirdly, the cops didn’t even take solid evidence from witnesses in their investigations.
“The interrogating officer testified (during the trial) that he just asked her name and some basic information during questioning. He was not provided materials from the investigation, and she was then kept in detention for seven days. The officer did not see the so-called petition calling for a lower ‘azan’ voice.” – Sankara Nair, Teresa’s lawyer, Free Malaysia Today
So what was the verdict? At first, she lost her suit against the former Home Minister and IGP, plus the High Court even ordered her to pay them RM50,000 in April 2015. So Teresa appealed to the Court of Appeal and the court ruled in her favour, ordering that she be paid RM350,000 and an additional RM70,000 in damages on 26 July 2016. The court agreed that the authorities failed to prove sufficient grounds for detaining her under the ISA.
BUUUT you know how these legal battles can be.. if one party is not satisfied with the verdict, he/she can appeal. So the Government challenged the judgment at the Federal Court in August. After all the ding dong back and forth, the Federal Court sided with Teresa also, maintaining that she was wrongfully arrested, and ending the lengthy battle. “The application is dismissed. The law is settled,” said Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum in delivering the judges’ unanimous decision.
“I think justice has been done to me after waiting for nine years. I was arrested under ISA in 2008 and now it’s 2017. So after nine years, I have to thank the judges, thank also my lawyer who have been fighting for me on this case for nine years.” – Teresa, quoted in Straits Times
FYI, this is not Teresa Kok’s first lawsuit. In April this year, Jamal Yunos alleged she had abused Selangor’s Skim Mesra Usia Emas (SMUE), so she sued him because his allegations were damaging to her image. Meanwhile, Teresa has also been sued by others before, like Utusan, but the paper eventually settled out of court with her.
Politicians and regular Malaysians have sued the gomen and won
Teresa Kok is just one of many politicians who have sued the Government or government officials. Even regular rakyatfolk have done it and won. Here is a list of the cases where the people won against the gomen:
1. Five other ex-ISA detainees who sued the Government and cops
Batu MP Tian Chua, social activist Hishamuddin Rais, Hulu Klang assemblyman Saari Sungib, Badaruddin Ismail and former PKR Supreme Council member Badrulamin Baharom were awarded RM5.16 mil over their unlawful detention in 2001.
2. Teacher who sued because her work application was rejected because she was pregnant?
Noorfadilla Ahmad Saikin applied to become a temporary teacher in 2009, but was rejected her after becoming pregnant. She argued that the Government had breached her constitutional rights on gender discrimination and won the case. It set a new standard where all women in the public sector cannot be discriminated against for pregnancy ever again.
3. Hindraf politician who sued the Government for EVERYTHING
P. Uthayakumar (Hindraf lawyer and politician) has sued the Government for many reasons – wrongful detention, defamation, wrongful action, wrongful prosecution, sedition, wrongful arrest, etc. Out of all the cases, he has won ONE, fighting for equal treatment for all Tamil schools in Malaysia.
4. Ibans sued the Sarawak Government for illegal logging
Illegal logging in Sarawak have long been destroying the Orang Asli’s food and water supply and their homes. Over time, Ibans were forced OFF their lands outright! So 276 Iban families sued timber companies and the Sarawak government and won. The court ordered the Government to pay them RM210,000 and reaffirmed the Orang Asli’s Native Customary Right (NCR) to the land.
There are also a few high profile lawsuits that are pending such as the one where Anwar Ibrahim sued the Government in April this year on the grounds that his conviction for sodomy was obtained by fraud. He maintains that the Government knew his accuser Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, 31, was an untruthful witness and have given a false evidence in the Sodomy II trial. Another one is Tony Pua suing the Government because he was barred from leaving Malaysia when he was going to fly to Indonesia for work.
It’s not so much about the money but the message it sends
After all that the Seputeh MP has gone through for nearly 10 years she must have felt so sien already. Thankfully she got compensation, but money aside, the judges’ verdict sends a clear message across to the public acknowledging that Teresa Kok’s arrest and detention under the ISA was wrong. It clears her of the azan accusation and officially clarifies that she was not involved in activities that incited hatred.
But it also restores our faith in the judiciary and gives Malaysians hope that there is justice. The winner in a lawsuit case is done justice because his or her good name has been cleared of an accusation or defamation made by someone else (whether or not they are actually right is another argument la). It sends the message that whoever spread the defamatory remarks is wrong. In short, is redeems a person’s reputation. As Chief Judge Richard Malanjum who presided over the 5 ex-ISA detainees’ case said about a person’s freedom:
“You are putting a value on a person’s freedom; to me it is priceless. A clear message should be sent, otherwise they keep repeating it, so it has to be a deterrent.” – Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum on FMT