Archive for January 11th, 2011

As with countless other cases (Lina Joy, for example) in which the interest of the state and individual freedom end up colliding in a courtroom, Zhao Mingfu’s death and Chen Yimin’s abduction also ended up nowhere. Why do they go through all the trouble if the results are invariably fated from the beginning?

But if any plaintiff were to bother, if a complainant wants to just try – and hope – and if an aggrieved party wants to take a wild shot, then it is incumbent on lawyers acting on their behalf to go on all the way.

If ferreting out the truth is supposed to be central to the coroner’s inquiry into (Teoh Beng Hock 赵明福) Zhao Mingfu’s death, then there was no dearth of evidences from two material things, a body and a handwritten note (top). Of these, the unsigned note or a letter is pertinent because it was evidently written when Zhao was held for interrogation overnight, 13 hours dusk to dawn, treated as if he was the criminal and not a potential prosecution witness. The circumstances fit like gloves to hand.

On the note, government lawyers relied solely on the lobby that it was a death wish. But, when determination of suicide rested primarily on the hanzi script, zaijian 再见 whether translated as ‘goodbye’ or ‘meet again’, it was clearly and plainly a stab in the dark.

The suicide hypothesis has one advantage to the government, however: establishing the writer’s identity becomes only a secondary consideration once the note is ruled as a death wish because only Zhao had died at the building. In other words, the logic was supposed to work backwards: death, note, leading to person. This is as opposed to, person to note to death – the opposite, converse idea which says that if the note is not a suicide confession then the writer’s identity wouldn’t matter. Whoever had written it is inconsequential to MACC’s desire for a suicide ruling.

Lawyers acting for Zhao’s family appear to have gone down the same converse line of argument; they wanted to discredit the suicide theory so badly that nothing else matters, not even the writer’s identity.

Their fear of knowing the identity is genuine because that may set off the fundamental issue: if the writer is indeed Zhao, then is the note a suicide confession? This says the lawyers weren’t sufficiently confident to take the chance that the note isn’t a death wish, even though plainly it isn’t. Which is to suggest this, the lawyers preferred a no-risk legal strategy – in the vernacular, play safe – rather than hang on to the conviction of certainty that Zhao wouldn’t kill himself because he had life to look forward to, a child to raise, a wife to care for, and he wasn’t at risk of being charged for corruption anyway.

Mingfu’s father and sister Lilan 丽兰

So what if the handwriting is Zhao’s?

If by logical induction any written document is a suicide confession once death followed, then it has to be concluded that a man’s Will is also a death wish. This is of course patently absurd.

But if truth is central to a coroner’s inquiry, then a first task of the lawyers is to check the authenticity of the note, that is, if it is Zhao’s handwriting. Any one or combination of at least four sources for verification – Ouyang (DAP’s Ean Yong Hian Wah?) to whom the note was address, Sin Chew where Zhao once worked as a reporter, his wife and his family – would yield a definite answer.

If the handwriting is not Zhao’s, the matter ends there, and the MACC won’t be able to pin a death wish on Zhao. If, however, the handwriting is Zhao’s, then there is no risk at all of losing to the government’s demand for a suicide ruling anyway because nothing in it – not script, not tone, not nuances, not even zaijian – speaks of such an intention.

But knowing that the note was written by Zhao opens instead a wholly new meaning and a new direction into the discovery of his death because in it the note speaks of using extraordinary and extra-legal means to destroy Ouyang. Similary, Zhao under interrogation at the time became the means and was into the pathway for the MACC to try and destroy Ean Yong.

Although brief, the note described identical circumstances and makes the same point, above, astonishingly vivid. In it is a witness confession to state malice and coercion, with nuances to the writer’s powerlessness against the forces of oppression, hence a regret at the inability to defend a friend and colleague. The penultimate words in the text: 我帮不到你,抱歉。对不起,我很累了. Translated: ‘I can’t help you (anymore), forgive (me). Sorry, I’m so tired‘.

There is a suggestion in the text that the writer had refused to submit, to go along with the fabrication of evidence. And if the writer is indeed Zhao, then his death reveals the extend to which brutality was actually inflicted.

In that event, the note points to the plausibility it was written, so to speak, just in case the writer doesn’t make it out alive. Which is to say, the writer, seeing the cruelty inflicted by (MACC) interrogators, anticipated death and he wanted the recipient Ouyang to know why it came to him should it come. In another way of phrasing, the note helped to put together a picture of violence, spite and brutality – that is, interrogation methods such as ‘you orang Cina?’ And in doing so the note pointed towards the flipside of suicide, that is, homicide and, if not, then death’s malicious or violent intention.

If the note is Zhao’s, Rafick’s hypothesis (here) bears great relevance. In it Rafick speaks of Zhao being beaten on the head, at the neck region, falling unconscious, and when attempts to revive him failed he was thrown out the building through the window. The assault and cover-up correlate with another thrust in the note’s message, that of making up evidences, fixing up people, which the writer had warned Ouyang about.

In real life, Rafick’s contention says the MACC went further: they assaulted Zhao then made it look like a suicide. That being the case, Zhao spoke from the dead – indeed, nuances and tones in the note confess obliquely to possible, imminent death as opposed to confessing a suicide, a death wish. It suggests, from the writer’s experience, interrogators might just go that far – kill.

The inquiry into Zhao’s death wasn’t merely a failure of the judiciary and of legal counsel but it was also a consequence of a perverted public opinion such as represented in the amateur and incompetent translators at HartalMSM (Eyes Wide Open) and AirKosong (Guan Sin), elementary with their English, incoherent in their hanzi readings. In their fanatical zeal to reject the note as a suicide confession, they, as well as the lawyers, effectively dismissed and closed all further examination into the note — ultimately to deny truth along with justice to the Zhao family (image above).

Perhaps, just perhaps, Zhao did write it and, if he did, he was being prophetic about death’s plausible outcome, which is completely different to saying it is a death wish, a suicide. Did the family know and so, too, did counsel whether if the note was Zhao’s but they had insisted on nothing, one way or the other?

Regardless, here was one more reason why, after one year, nobody is closer to the truth than when the case started off and Justice gets another day off. An open verdict is on point of probability a 50-50 outcome, so all that’s needed now is a little extra weight to interpretation of evidence – just to tilt the scales.


丽兰: 我们不相信警察和法院,如果他们进行调查是为了躲避证据我们的。我们自己必须进行的调查。


Next: the case of Chen Yimin (陈乙敏 Tan Yi Min), another judicial, legal and public opinion failure.



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