Vigilantism: Mob justice still unacceptable

  • Nation
  • Monday, 22 Sep 2014

A screenshot taken from the Malaysian Crime Awareness Campaign Facebook page.

PETALING JAYA: These days, beating up a stranger on the road for allegedly committing a 'crime' has become a trend.

Social media users will have witnessed many videos uploaded on sites like Facebook and Youtube. In some disturbing videos, the thief begs for the police, for fear of being beaten up by the angry mob.

As satisfying and justified as it may sometimes seem, such acts of vigilantism have their own repercussions.

Criminal defence lawyer Farhan Read says that vigilantism is a very subjective topic and it is hard to have fixed laws for it.

"However perpetrators are usually charged under section 323 of the Penal Code for causing hurt or 326  for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means.

He said that the penalty is usually determined on a case to case basis.

"In my opinion they can also be charged under section 147 for rioting, as we often come across cases where random strangers who had not witnessed the crime, join in to beat the reprimanded individual.

"From what I understand, enforcement officers often tolerate a certain amount of vigilantism.

"If it is a matter of a black eye for a snatch thief or a car thief, it may seem acceptable, but if the crowd is seen tying him up and beating him brutally, some form of action should be taken against them," he told The Star Online.

Commenting on the case of the mother who caned the suspect who allegedly raped her daughter Farhan said it depends on who is looking at the case.

"The Attorney-General would probably be able to understand the situation of the mother and probably let her off with a warning, unless her actions led to something serious like the death of the suspect.

"Further action against the mother also depends on the suspect who was beaten up, but he has to understand that pushing for action on her would expose him to further investigation," he said.

Farhan added that people may be taking the law in their hands because they can't seem to read the system.

"There were many cases where the respective authorities went out of their ways to solve the case, while others despite having evidence like eye witnesses and CCTV footage were just left without action," he said adding that people need to know for sure that justice will be served.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen said vigilantism is unfortunately a growing symptom which is happening because citizens are feeling helpless and distressed with the situation in the country.

"People are analysing and evaluating the law enforcement and the crime prevention efforts in our country and their growing concern eventually builds up and results in a breakdown.

"Regardless, beating up criminals is still illegal and have no rights to do anything other than apprehend the suspect," he said when contacted by The Star Online.

Paulsen added that people should not take advantage of the situation as there have been occasions when mob mentality has led to the death of the wrong person and therefore, the public should only take action if they have witnessed the crime.

"Even in that case, the public should only use a reasonable amount of force which serves to subdue the criminal, because anything that possibly incurs serious injury is wrong and the public can be charged for assault under the penal code.

"It is however understood that people would be pretty upset in that situation and their actions are based on anger, and therefore the Attorney General will look into the case thoroughly before charging the public," he said.

Relating to the case where a mother of a 13-year old rape victim caned the rapist in public, Eric said though her actions are understandable, it is best to leave it to the police to take actions.

"In my opinion it would not make sense to prosecute her and I believe she will be let off with a warning," he said.

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