What message is being relayed to Malaysians when a convicted petty thief, a habitual drug user who has assaulted members of the public, is acquitted despite confessing to his crime, backed by the testimony of witnesses?
Cast your mind back three years to July 2015, when a staff member at Techasia Boutique, Low Yat Plaza, served Shahrul Anuar Abdul Aziz who pretended to inspect a phone which he claimed he would buy.
As soon as the trader turned his back, Shahrul ran off with the RM800 Lenovo mobile phone. But as he neared the escalator, he fell and was promptly caught by members of the public who handed him to the security guards.
Later that night, his friends reportedly turned up at the complex where they trashed the place, causing some RM70,000 worth of damage.
Disturbing footage also emerged of a mob targeting the petrified occupants of a car, three of whom were journalists from the Chinese press who were going to cover the incident.
In January 2016, chief security guard Kamarudin Shariff testified in the Magistrate’s Court that while awaiting the arrival of the police, Shahrul had confessed to the theft of the phone.
During his detention at the Dang Wangi police station, he was also caught taking methamphetamines in the toilet of the Narcotics Criminal Investigation Division office.
Incredibly, however, Shahrul’s lawyer treated him like a hero, raising his arms as though he were a champion.
Some Malay NGOs tried to turn the episode into a racial issue, claiming discrimination and cheating on the part of the traders.
One minister said a second premise should be set up, modelled on Low Yat Plaza but established principally for Malay entrepreneurs.
Shahrul was fined RM2,000 for taking drugs. He was also placed under police supervision for two years.
A fortnight later, he returned to court to face a charge of voluntarily causing hurt to a mechanic by slashing him on the head with a machete.
Fast forward to March 1, 2018, when a three-man Court of Appeal bench acquitted Shahrul of stealing the phone on technical grounds.
Justice Mohtarudin Baki said there had been a serious misdirection of justice and that the four-month jail term and RM1,000 fine imposed on Shahrul were tantamount to a miscarriage of justice.
Mohtarudin said he had “reason to believe” that Shahrul had indeed stolen the phone, but advised him to repent, or to take the episode as a test from Allah if he was innocent.
What will Malaysians make of this judgment? This is a nasty precedent for the future.
As a woman who was once the victim of a street mugging said, “Theft is still theft.”
So what message are the authorities relaying to the public? That crime pays?
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.