ON Monday, a lorry driver was beaten to death in Tanah Merah, Kelantan, by a group of men who suspected that he stole a motorcycle belonging to one of them. On Sunday, another alleged motorcycle thief suffered the same fate in Pasir Mas.
As the police are still conducting their investigations, we don't have all the facts.
But from the little that we do know from press reports, just as the "gentleman officers" the policemen are supposed to become would be unjustified in using excessive force in arresting suspects, it would appear that the spontaneous posse in both fatal pursuits had no just cause to deliver the deadly blows.
As the perpetrators appeared to have been unarmed and outnumbered, these did not seem to be situations where they had reason to believe that their own lives or safety, or those of some innocent third party, were in jeopardy.
To be sure, there did not seem to have been a premeditated attempt to kill or cause serious bodily harm. But neither did they show any restraint as they went beyond simply detaining the suspects and waiting for the police to arrive.
In any event, beating up people suspected of breaking the law is not law-abiding behaviour. It is, of course, up to the police to decide whether they would file charges against those involved.
While this is not the first time that suspected thieves have been beaten to death by a mob, thankfully, these instances have been few and far between.
But when it could be a case of mistaken identity or lead to the death of someone innocent, as in the case of the foreign worker who was wrongly accused of stealing a mobile phone three years ago, it has to be deplored in the strongest terms.
In any event, righting a criminal wrong by the wrong means is not right, and it is unacceptable that people take the law into their own hands, even when the suspects have a criminal record, turn out to be guilty of the crime or are caught red-handed.
The vicious beatings of thieves by an irate mob do not fit the crime as they are far more violent than the crime of theft. Indeed, the basic problem with the kind of justice meted by a mob is that it is too swift, too severe and too sure.
This is a serious threat to the rule of law as it goes against the grain of the principle that everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
-New Straits Times