The case of four Chinese nationals who claimed they were ill-treated by the police, followed by a video-clip of a naked woman asked to perform ear-squats in front of a policewoman in a police station propelled DAP publicity secretary Teresa Kok, 41, into the limelight. It has brought her more publicity than she could ever bargain for from her quiet work with her constituency.
The two-term Seputeh MP told HUSNA YUSOP she did not expect to create such an impact, taking pains to stress that she is not a police basher; just a person who fights for human rights, whoever it may be.
theSun: How have the past two weeks been since you showed the ear-squat video clip to MPs in Parliament on Nov 25? Has it affected your life?
I have become very, very busy. I never expected this to turn into an international issue that even had some impact on China-Malaysia relations. When I helped the women, I thought it was just one of the issues involving lock-ups. I was just trying to help them. I did not know them beforehand. So it was a bit unexpected.
But I should thank the media as they have worked very well this time to highlight abuse by police and have pushed for (the setting up of)the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). They have exercised their social responsibility in highlighting this issue. Although I know the police are very upset with me and the DAP, I think the general public who have experienced abuse and corruption are very happy to see it being highlighted.
Do you consider this your moment of glory since almost everyday your name is in the newspapers and you have been extra busy attending to the police, reporters and all?
I do not have any sense of glory at all. Actually, more and more complaints about police and immigration have come flooding to my office now. I do not think I am capable of handling it all. And the more I bring up these issues, the more I will be seen as bashing the police. This is not what I wanted. Police bashing was never my intention because I recognise their important role in maintaining the security of the country. A lot of times, when we have problems, we will go to police, too. According to Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Noh Omar, only about 1% of the police force are troublemakers. The issue now is how to deal with this 1% who have tarnished the image of the whole police force and the country? This is the problem which society and the government should take seriously.
How have the police treated you, especially when they recorded your statements?
They were okay with me but I do receive nasty letters, nasty e-mails. It could be from police officers who are angry with us. But the majority of people (whom) I met are very grateful the issue of these four Chinese women has helped to air their unhappiness, dissatisfaction and helplessness in dealing with the police.
You mean, before this they do not know who to turn to?
Before this, they were like the silent majority who are at the receiving end. They have swallowed a lot of this kind of issues but somehow now, through this case we have managed to do something that perhaps a lot of people wished to do but did not know how.
You believe many people have faced problems with the police?
Yes there have been lots of cases. Just look at the traffic offences which are very common, especially in the city. All of us have faced this kind of problem with the police. They will ask “whether you want to pay the summons yourself or you want me to help you to pay?’ I have faced it, too. Once, my assistant was stopped by the police for using the handphone while driving. The police scolded him and asked for RM20.
Who actually started making the offer?
Normally, the police will keep scolding you until you will have to ask him, tolong lah, tolong, tolong, tolong (please help). And during the conversation, they (police) will ask for money.
In your blog, you said some people reminded you to be extra careful after you exposed the video clip. What do you mean? Is it careful of the police who might get back at you?
I do not want to accuse anybody, otherwise I will face further attacks from politicians or police who are very unhappy with me at the moment.
How do you see your role in exposing the video clip?
My role was just to highlight the case to the press. Before I got the video clip, I knew a lot of members of the public had seen it through MMS. It had been circulated quite widely on the ground. People had been calling me about it because they had heard about the case of the four Chinese women and when they saw the MMS, they thought the woman in the clip was one of them. Many people were eager to show me the MMS. I got calls from people I do not know – from Johor, from Kajang – they asked me about the MMS but I did not know about it until I saw it myself.
You did not receive the MMS before that?
No, my phone cannot receive MMS. So when I got the video clip, and since Parliament was in session, as an MP, it was very natural for me to show it to my fellow MPs. Because I was the one who highlighted it in the media before.
A lawyer commented in a newspaper that you have no immunity to show it outside the Dewan Rakyat and you could be charged for showing pornography to the public. How do you react to this?
I expected this long ago. But, if I do not do this, how am I supposed to expose things? I see nothing wrong in highlighting the matter because it was in line with the accusations of the Chinese women. The images from the MMS created an impact. When you see it, you get angry. You will then understand all these accusations, made either by the former reformasi woman or the Chinese nationals. If I did not bring up the matter, who will? Do you think any members of the public would do it?
So you see it as evidence to support the accusations?
Yes. Now we could see it with our own eyes.
But the police did not confirm the woman in the video clip is a Chinese national.
It does not matter to me whether she is Indian, Chinese, Indonesian or Myanmar. I never said it was a Chinese, but whoever saw the video clip will think it was a Chinese. Now the police have come out with a statement saying it is a Malay girl. Well, fair. But, this is worst, because you do it in front of a Muslim woman. I am very sad because the whole issue had become racial. Now I have been accused of helping the girls because they are from China, they are Chinese. People do not look at the problem but they make it racial. I never had any racial thought when I help somebody. Recently, there were two Iranians who complained of facing similar treatment two years ago. I highlighted it to the media but sad to say, the Malay papers did not publish it. So who makes the issue racial?
You are saying it is the media.
Yes, but why? Why are the Umno politicians or Umno-controlled media, especially the Malay papers, only interested to link the Chinese and the DAP? I helped Iranians, I helped China girls, I helped an Indonesian maid who ran away from employer’s house because she was tortured. Whoever is in need of help and come to me, I will try my best. I really do not understand why our politicians and also the media, after achieving independence for close to 50 years, are still putting race in all the issues we speak of. But I really appreciate ministers like Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Nazri Aziz and Home Minister Datuk Seri Azmi Khalid who dare to speak up. When I first showed the clip to them, I still remember Azmi telling the media, this is not the issue of race. It has nothing to do with political party differences. This is an issue related to human rights. I appreciate him making this kind of statement. It was in the right spirit.
But, go and ask the rest of them. I am very disappointed with some of the remarks the MPs made. They accused the DAP of spoiling the relationship between China and Malaysia. I was also responsible for that? We are living in a global world. How did the China media find out about it? Do you think I was the one who reported to them? I do not have contacts with them. They got the news from our Chinese papers website, from the Malaysian media website. It has become world news. The BBC broadcast it on the Net. It was very unfair for them to accuse me of spoiling our relationship with China. To say I was just fighting for the Chinese, it was nonsensical for me.
Generally, what do you think about discrimination against women in Malaysia?
Well, it is a struggle. Like the case of the naked woman asked to ear squat which the Deputy IGP Datuk Seri Musa Hassan said is part of standard operating procedures. It is the system, the practice, that creates the problem. Like in the Parliament, why do all these sexist remarks come out from the MPs? It is their perception. They do not think women should play the role of parliamentarians. They think women should stay at home, take care of children and be of service to them. It also comes back to our culture, system of thinking and awareness of rights. I would think there is still a long way for women to go to break all these social norms and challenge thesystem. Like in the case of the policewoman in the clip, she was carrying out orders without having the consciousness of women’s rights or human rights in her mind. It is the system, the procedure, the standard way of doing things. So, it is still a long way to go.
How did you first get into politics?
It was by accident. When I finished my first degree in media studies (communications) in Universiti Sains Malaysia in 1990, it was the general election year. Coming down to Kuala Lumpur from Penang, I somehow got involved in helping the DAP for the election campaign. That was how it started.
You had no family or relatives in DAP?
No. Actually when I joined DAP, I was scolded by my parents for almost five years! But now they have accepted it. At that time I was working with Lim Kit Siang … until 1995 when I was Ipoh Barat parliamentary candidate. Then only my family came to help me.
They did not approve of you joining politics or joining the DAP?
Mainly because I joined the Opposition. Most people see joining an opposition party as something risky.
So why did you choose to join the Opposition?
Because of my experience in the 1990 general election campaign. It was an eye opener for me. I realised the need in politics. The Barisan Nasional parties have so many people. They have the money, the people, all sorts of professionals to assist them. In the 1990 elections, the DAP was just three seats short of capturing the Penang state government. Look at the difference in the seats in the Dewan Rakyat. All the Opposition (seats) add up to only 8%. Why do you still support the 92%? What for? I joined the party and worked with Lim only after the 1990 elections. At that time, I thought this party needs more people to come forward to support. Not only DAP, but all opposition parties need more young people.
When we talk about support, most people would think, “I cast my vote for you, that is my support’. That is not enough. We need more people to come forward to support by action. And this is very much lacking today. Most people would see associating with or getting involved in the opposition party is something very risky. At that time, 1987 was Operation Lalang. Many people, including my parents and friends, had warned me, I may be detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) one day. People link ISA detention and opposition parties. We need to break away from this perception.
Despite all the warnings, you were still determined to join the Opposition?
Because I have a conviction in my heart. You can give your warning but for me, I will act according to what my heart tells me. And until today, I have no regret. Sometimes, when I give it a thought, if I had joined Barisan today, I would be very unhappy. Because, I cannot speak my mind. And I also think I would not be that efficient.
During your university years you were said to be not outspoken and not likely to go into politics.
Yes, but then, I was active too. Not in student elections, only in the Chinese Language Society, as it was one of the most active in campus. We organised a lot of activities related to social consciousness and I felt I have a bigger role to play in society. And, the communication course that I studied helped to create my political and social awareness. Actually, it was the social responsibility of a journalist or the principles of journalism which contributed to making me who I am today. At that time, I never thought of joining political parties or getting involved in politics. That was why in the first six months after joining DAP, I was still thinking whether I had made the right choice. Later, I went away for a three-month course in India and that helped me to do some soul-searching, thinking and reflecting.
DAP sent you to the course?
No, I took unpaid leave on my own initiative. When you are away, it is good to reflect, to ask yourself what do you want, to assess your direction. After that, I made up my mind to go ahead. It was like a calling from God for me. I do not know how long I would be in politics but as long as I feel the call from God, I will continue. Until I find it is time to stop or change my direction or go to another dimension of life, then only I will stop.
Even if you were no longer chosen as an MP, you would still be with DAP?
I hope so because I am more comfortable being in opposition. And I do not think being in the opposition is ineffective, like what has always been claimed by the Barisan politicians. They said only by joining the government we can play a more effective role. I do not think so because in a lot of the things we championed for, in the past and present, we have managed to get them done.
When there are times to work with the Barisan, we come together and support each other. We realised, for the sake of the country, for a larger picture, there would be times when we have to set aside our political differences. This is the spirit still very much lacking among our MPs today. Personally, I look forward to see this happening. So, I feel very sad when this police abuse case was turned into a racial issue.
The joke is, when I first showed the clip to the MPs, all of them wanted to see it. The Barisan MPs were all shouting and jumping up and down. They were very angry to see it but they never criticised me. But now, they said I have tarnished the country’s image. At that time they were all very angry with that kind of practice in the police station.
One of the Umno MPs suggested that it be brought up when debating the Internal Security Ministry. He said we should ask permission from the Speaker to let all MPs view it. Another said we should debate it in the House as an emergency motion. But they only dare to say it casually at the (Parliament) lounge.
When inside the House, suddenly they changed their tune. I got the impression these MPs are not serious in their remarks … in their stand. They can change anytime depending on how the wind blows. I felt very disappointed.
It shows they do not have a political principle. At least, I appreciate Nazri for defending me, saying I should not be charged for showing the clip as I was playing my role as a wakil rakyat. He sticks to his words, but not other MPs.
Would you say this is the most prominent or biggest issue in your political life?
Yes. But I did not plan or expect it. But as a wakil rakyat I still have to attend to my constituency. People may think, wah … I have been on the news, but more and more of people’s problems come to me.People in my constituency will call me for rubbish not cleared, longkang problem, potholes, traffic lights and even when they want to split with their boyfriend also they call me to help negotiate.
Lecehlah … How am I going to handle all these? But I cannot put them aside.
No matter how small, I have to attend to it. To sustain this kind of service to the public is no joke. Very few people would come forward and volunteer help.
But, I hope with this kind of exposure by the media, the government together with the NGOs, we can all push towards the formation of the IPCMC. Senate president Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Pawanteh once said to me, “there is no entity that can go on without checks’. So, no matter how much we love the government, it still needs to be checked.
And that is why the Opposition is needed?