Authorities must be seen acting according to the rule of law

An incident that happened in Manjoi, Perak on May 24 deserved more attention than it got. Members of an NGO forced a convenience store to remove the beer cans it was placing in a cooler. Only two columnists spoke up against the actions of the NGO. Apart from their voices, there was silence from the authorities.

The shop has a licence to sell beer so it didn’t do anything illegal. But, was the action of the NGO legal? Did they have the right to storm into a shop and intimidate the owners or workers to remove products they disapproved of?

Clearly, the action of the NGO was illegal but they got away with it. The police and state government said nothing. It was only after several days that Perak Menteri Besar (MB) Ahmad Faizal Azumu said that the NGO shouldn’t have acted in the way they did. However, he added that the shop operators should have been more “sensitive” to the feelings of the predominantly Malay community.

I can understand the MB’s point of view. But, the important question is: Was the incident handled according to the rule of law? If the NGO’s action was illegal, why was police action not taken? If the locals disapproved of such products in the shop, they could have approached the shop operator and expressed their concerns. Better still, don’t buy the offending product or products or just don’t patronize the shop!

Did the locals ask the NGO to help them or did they take the law into their own hands? I can also understand that under the new government people may feel freer to express their preferences and act on them. Perhaps, the NGO members weren’t aware that, in their zealousness, they were trampling on the rights of others. Perhaps, they were quietly advised against taking such vigilante actions in the future.

This being the new Malaysia, people may be testing the waters to enjoy the freedom to exercise their rights. But, if an action is illegal, the police and relevant authorities must take action and be seen as upholding the rule of law. That was not seen in the Manjoi incident.

The authorities must take the necessary action for it communicates to minority groups that even over a sensitive issue like religion or an issue involving the majority community, they will act according to the rule of law. They can be creative in handling the situation compassionately by giving only a reprimand or a fine, but whatever action they take, it must be clear they are acting within the scope of the law.

We can overlook the Manjoi incident as one that happened too soon after the new government was installed and that the police and MB were unsure of what was expected of them.

Well, we learn from our mistakes. In the future, the authorities must be seen upholding the rule of law and ensure that no one is exempt from it — not the infamous Jamal Yunus who is said to be in hiding or former Sabah MB Tan Sri Musa Aman who seems to have slipped out of the country. The long arm of the law must nab them swiftly and urgently.

When the relevant authorities act according to the rule of the law — and not selectively — it inspires confidence in the people that our institutions can be trusted.

 

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