Outrageous arrests are the new danger

May 04, 2014, 07:04 IST | Nury Vittachi

A motorbike crashed into a pedestrian. The bike rider died, but the pedestrian was unhurt. So police arrested the pedestrian

A motorbike crashed into a pedestrian. The bike rider died, but the pedestrian was unhurt. So police arrested the pedestrian.

That happened recently in China. In the same country, a man was driving a tuk-tuk (scooter-taxi) when a remote-control toy plane swooped out of the sky and killed him. Police classified the case as a “traffic accident”.

A Pakistani lawyer takes the fingerprint of a toddler, who was accused of attempted murder. Pic/AFP

I really, really hope I never get arrested in China. I would find taking the blame for being run over or killed distinctly irritating.

These thoughts came to mind as this columnist reviewed the latest reader contributions to his “dumb criminals” file.

These days, it is no longer de rigueur to commit a crime to be punished. Pro-active law enforcers will conveniently file charges without you having to lift a finger.

In the US, police officers grabbed and cuffed a 29-year-old guy for looking suspicious, but he broke free and ran away. They caught up with him, dragged him to the police station, and charged him with “theft of police handcuffs”. I know police in China are slapping their foreheads and saying: “Wish we'd thought of that.”

Perhaps the most widely discussed non-crime of recent weeks was the case of the nine-month-old baby in Pakistan who police charged with attempted murder. It was ridiculous. Infants can't seriously attempt to kill adults until they reach the age of 18 months at least.

My three children tried to kill me for years. They took turns waking up in the middle of the night to create a lethal regimen of sleep deprivation. But after a year or so I got used to it, and grew to like the fact that my days were longer than other people's. I'll sleep when they've grown up and left home. It's not like 18 years without sleep is likely to be harmful or anything.

The whole crime-and-punishment thing is much simpler now since you don't have to do anything bad to get in trouble. Consider what's happening in Xinjiang, a central Asian region annexed by China (the Chinese government denies this, but their argument is undermined by the fact that the region's Chinese name means “newly acquired land”). Police there recently started offering taxpayer cash to citizens who report that their neighbours are growing beards.

The logic is that beard equals dangerous weirdo equals terrorist. This is outrageous. I'm sure it is scientifically possible to be a bearded man and not be a scary weirdo, although I must admit I can't think of any examples. I probably need to get out more.

As I sit pondering over how to end this column, one more example of innocent people getting into legal trouble arrives via an email from a reader in Taiwan. In Taipei recently, a couple grieving over the suicide of their son received a lawsuit. It turned out to be from their late son's landlord, suing them because their offspring's death lowered the potential profits on his property. This proves that landlords are breathtakingly evil, money-grubbing scum. I should know, being one myself. But at least I don't have a beard.

I plan to spend the rest of today not committing crimes. Please visit me in jail.

Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller

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