"Allah" socks controversy: Malaysia must nip mob justice in the bud or face serious consequences in future

Groups question authorities for not reining in vigilantes while speedily arresting two men who made remarks over the discovery of socks bearing the word “Allah”.

A picture of a mob, depicting the controversy in Malaysia surrounding the 'Allah' socks.
It appears that the controversy over the "Allah" socks is getting out of hand, with vigilantism and extremist tendencies rearing their ugly heads. (Photo: Getty Images)

Only last week I wrote about the danger of mob justice in Malaysia and now we are seeing incidents related to the discovery of several pairs of socks bearing the word “Allah” in an outlet of the KK Supermart & Superstore Sdn Bhd (KK Mart) convenience store chain.

It appears that the controversy over the socks is getting out of hand, with vigilantism and extremist tendencies rearing their ugly heads.

If not cut off now, mob justice will take a life of its own and the police may not be able to contain it in future. There are too many examples of this in other countries.

Petrol bomb thrown at KK Mart outlet

The media reported today (26 March) that a petrol bomb was thrown at a KK Mart store in Bidor, Perak, about 5am.

However, China Press reported, the bomb which landed in front of the store did not explode. Staff members were in the 24-hour store when an unidentified person threw the petrol bomb, it said.

I didn’t expect the socks issue to turn this ugly.

But it just goes to show how sensitive issues about race and religion, especially Islam, are in Malaysia. And how some people are prepared to take matters into their own hands instead of letting police handle it.

KK Mart and the vendor who supplied the socks which were imported from China have been under intense pressure since 13 March when photographs of socks bearing the word "Allah", sold at KK Mart’s Bandar Sunway store, appeared on social media.

The management of KK Mart had apologised for the mistake.

KK Mart chairman, directors charged with wounding feelings of Muslims

This morning (26 March) KK Mart, its founder and executive chairman Dr Chai Kee Kan, his wife Loh Siew Mui, who is a KK Mart director, and four others were separately charged with intentionally wounding the religious feelings of Muslims over the display of socks bearing the word "Allah" at a KK Mart 24-hour convenience store.

Chai, 57, and Loh, 53, pleaded not guilty to the charges after it was read before judge Muhamad Anas Mahadzir at the Shah Alam Sessions Court. They were each granted bail of RM10,000 in one surety.

The case will come up for mention on April 29.

If convicted, they face a jail sentence of one year, a fine, or both.

KK Mart’s former vendor Xin Jiang Chang Sdn Bhd, which supplied the socks to KK Mart, and three of its company directors - Soh Chin Huat, 61, his wife Goh Li Huay, 62, and their daughter Soh Hui San, 36 - were charged with conspiring to commit the offence.

They were also granted bail of RM10,000 in one surety each. If convicted, they too face one year in jail, a fine, or both.

Earlier, UMNO Youth had called for a boycott of KK Mart. And despite growing calls to let the law handle the matter, it’s leader Akmal Saleh insisted on pressing on with the boycott.

Vigilantes intimidate two men into confessing

Two other ugly incidents occurred earlier as a consequence of the socks controversy.

A video was circulated which showed a group of men intimidating Chiok Wai Loong and forcing him to confess to comments he made online about the socks controversy which were deemed to have insulted Islam.

Reports said another man, Ricky Shane Cagampang, was also allegedly intimidated and forced to confess to “offensive” remarks he had made online.

The pair were immediately arrested and swiftly charged.

They were each sentenced to six months in prison after pleading guilty to charges under the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 for their postings. Chiok was also fined RM12,000 while Cagampang was fined RM15,000.

Human rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) questioned the speed at which the two men were charged and the failure of police to act against the “vigilante groups” that had allegedly intimidated them.

Rights group asks why no action against vigilantes

LFL director Zaid Malek was very blunt about the way the matter was being handled, saying failure to act against vigilante groups would simply encourage mob justice.

Saying the six-month jail sentence was excessive for a first offender, he hoped the High Court would step in under its revisionary jurisdiction to set aside the sentence.

Zaid said: “It is public knowledge that Chiok’s personal details were made public online and a vigilante group had unlawfully tracked him down and intimidated him into making an online confession.

“Everyone saw this video, and it was sickening. While Chiok was arrested and charged and swiftly jailed, what action has been taken against the vigilante group that took the law into their own hands and committed several potential offences? These include offences under section 503 of the Penal Code for criminal intimidation, section 505(b) for statements causing mischief and ironically, section 233 of Communications and Multimedia Act as well.”

Why, he asked, were the police so quick to act against Chiok but had taken no action against this vigilante group? “Is mob rule now permitted in Malaysia?”

Zaid also asked if the authorities would allow “those big political personalities who instigated, agitated and added fuel to the fire,” to get off scott-free.

Lynch-mob campaign

“These politicians, particularly from Umno, framed what appears to any reasonable person as a supply mistake by KK Supermart as some kind of full-blown insult to Islam. This led to an active ‘lynch-mob’ campaign against anyone who made comments on the issue which may be regarded as insensitive by vigilante-type groups.”

The much-respected G25 – a group of retired top civil servants – also weighed in on the controversy by saying no to mob justice.

“We in G25 abhor mob justice. Therefore, we urge the authorities to take swift action against the vigilante groups who took matters into their own hands by unlawfully intimidating two individuals, Chiok Wai Loong and Ricky Shane Cagampang, separately, forcing them to confess to comments they made online.

“It is not the job of the vigilante groups to do what they did, for we have the law and the enforcement authorities. There is no place for mob justice in this country.”

Take stern action against mob justice call

Saying Malaysia was governed by the rule of law, the group called for stern action “to deter irresponsible elements among the public from similarly taking the law into their own hands in the future”.

It said it was deeply disturbed that both Chiok and Cagampang were dealt with by the courts without having legal representation, all the more so when heavy sentences were imposed upon them.

“The two persons should not have been brought to trial without ensuring they were legally represented. Justice requires they should have been accorded the benefit of having a counsel to speak on their behalf in mitigation in light of the severity of the sentences.

“Indeed, the very sensitivity of the matter makes it all the more necessary that the accused persons have the full protection of the law.”

G25 said it was tragic that the two men were brought before the court without any lawyer to make a plea in mitigation on their behalf.

Calling on government and political leaders to consider how their reactions to such incidents would affect investments, G25 said: “If a few pairs of socks, regardless of intention, are enough to close a business and receive threats, local and foreign investors will certainly look elsewhere for more stability for their businesses.”

That, I think, says it all.

If no action is taken against mobs, Malaysia will regret later

Responding to LFL and G25, Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said the government would not allow anyone to take matters into their own hands,

“If we were to allow that, what would become of our nation?” he asked rhetorically, adding only the police had the authority to go after wrongdoers.

Asked by newsmen if the authorities would arrest the vigilantes, Saifuddin said the police would carry out their duties.

Malaysians will be watching to see what the authorities do.

I say it again, if incidents such as this are not nipped in the bud, Malaysia will face serious problems in future.

It must be made clear to everyone that only the police can act in such circumstances and that mobs will be arrested and punished immediately – not months later, if at all - no matter what the cause or excuse.

A.Kathirasen is a veteran Malaysian journalist/editor who has been writing columns, with breaks, in newspapers and online since 1981. All views expressed are the writer's own.

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