THE Attorney General and the Royal Malaysian Police have now reclassified their investigation into the death of Teoh Beng Hock, who died in the custody of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commision (MACC), almost 10 years ago.
The case was previously investigated under Section 304 of the Penal Code, which covers culpable homicide.
It has now reportedly been reclassified under Section 342 of the Penal Code, which deals with the much less serious offence of wrongful confinement.
This is especially perplexing because as has been pointed out, the Court of Appeal ruled in 2014 that one or more people had caused Teoh's death while he was in MACC custody.
In light of this finding, it is extremely irregular for the police or the Attorney General to reclassify the case as such.
I can only imagine how incredibly upsetting this must be for the Teoh family.
Malaysians were filled with new hope and great expectations with the change of government following the 14th General Election.
For the Teoh family, that hope was of a much more poignant and personal nature than most.
I think none of us should ever presume to know or understand the pain of having lost a son, brother, and husband to a violent death while in custody of the authorities.
That said, I think it is not in the least unreasonable to expect some degree of sensitivity from our leaders in the government.
Commenting on the reclassification, Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was quoted by Malaysiakini as saying:
"From what we were informed, this case was concluded many years ago and almost every process in the law had been conducted including forming a royal commission of inquiry and payment of compensation to Teoh Beng Hock's family.
"There is no issue with that but when the family has received compensation, and they continue to demand more, I would just leave the matter to the Attorney General."
This articulation and line of reasoning seems extremely offensive, as it implies that the Teoh family has already "gotten paid", and are now unreasonably "asking for more".
A government – let us not forget – that Muhyiddin himself was part of at that time.
Another news portal quoted him as saying: "The family is not satisfied even though they have accepted the compensation; they are still urging for more action."
So, is the Teoh family supposed to just take the money and shut up?
Lawyer and Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh has stated clearly that legally, the settlement suit is made completely without prejudice to the criminal investigation.
Muhyiddin makes it sound like the Teoh family should be content with the money, and not care one whit about justice, or finding the truth.
Perhaps he needs to remember that he is no longer in Umno.
It always pains me to have to take this kind of angle, but sometimes we need to call a spade a spade, and wonder aloud if there is a racial element to this.
Is there a reluctance to expose the MACC to an investigation genuinely interested in uncovering the truth, because of the Malay-Chinese angle to this whole thing?
A judge who upheld the open verdict returned by the coroner's court in the Teoh's case, Abd Rahim Uda, has now been appointed to the task force looking into the disappearances of pastor Raymond Koh and activist Amri Che Mat.
The extremely lack of diversity of any sort on that task force also raised many eyebrows.
If we fall victim to this habit of letting racial considerations inform our every decision – to the point where even the search for truth and justice becomes secondary – then we will truly have stepped back into the toxic waters of the old Malaysia.
Teoh's death galvanised countless Malaysians, and solidified their resolve to unseat the Barisan Nasional government.
If people like Muhyiddin think they are gaining some sort of points with Malay voters by pulling stunts like this, it would appear they are in for a rude shock.
All they will do is alienate the people who had been behind Pakatan Harapan all along.
In any case, the minister, the Attorney General and the police should be extremely aware of the pitfalls of sacrificing principle for political expediency.
No amount of money will ever make up for the loss of a loved one. I am certain that the Teoh family will not rest until the truth has been revealed, and justice served.
NATHANIEL TAN is free once again. He was a former director of media and communications of think tank Emir Research.
The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.
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