By V. Anbalagan and Lee Shi-Ian
KUALA LUMPUR: The "special privileges" accorded to murder accused Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azah Umar are being questioned.
Close to 95 per cent of those who participated in a recent Bar Council poll felt it was "not right" that the faces of both policemen have not been exposed while analyst Abdul Razak Baginda was identified even during the murder investigations.
Razak was charged with abetting Azilah and Sirul in the murder of Mongolian beauty Altantuya Shaariibuu.
On Oct 31, however, the High Court acquitted and discharged Razak at the end of the prosecution's case after the judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove a prima facie case against him.
The two policemen were ordered to enter their defence and hearing will begin today.
But throughout the trial, which is coming to its second year, Azilah and Sirul always had their faces covered when in public.
They resorted to extreme measures in concealing their faces when they adorned ninja-like outfits which completely covered their heads.
The media, failing to capture the images of the policemen, have so far only provided sketches of the duo.
Many are questioning why their faces are being hidden in such a high-profile case which is even closely followed in other countries.
Bar Council vice-chairman Ragunath Kesavan said there is no law to compel the policemen to reveal their identities to the public.
"It is only a must for the identity of accused persons to be revealed during proceedings and in the presence of the trial judge, their lawyers and the prosecutors."
He said accused persons were presumed to be innocent until proven guilty and they could do whatever it took to cover their faces.
Criminal lawyer Datuk Baljit Singh Sidhu, however, pointed out that Azilah and Sirul were able to cover their faces only with the cooperation of the police.
"The two are constantly under custody and have adequate time to come up with such a facade."
He said since the trial began, many have asked him why Azilah and Sirul were accorded such a privilege while most other accused persons were denied such "luxury".
Lawyer Fahri Azzat said it was obvious that the police were practising a double standard in aiding Azilah and Sirul to conceal their faces.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time the public do not have an inkling how the cops charged in a high-profile murder trial look like."
He said on other occasions, it was the accused person who had to put his head down or get assistance from family members to prevent photographers from capturing their image.
"An impression is already built in the minds of most laymen that the police are not being fair," he said.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan pointed out that only the court has the power to order them to reveal their faces.
"We cannot force Azilah or Sirul or any other suspect for that matter, to reveal their faces in public.
"Only the court has that authority," Musa said.
"But why raise the issue now?
"It has been a year and a half since the Altantuya case began so why bring up the issue of their covered faces now?"
In the poll, a total of 821 voters participated with an overwhelming 774 voters or 95 per cent disagreeing that both Azilah and Sirul be allowed to cover their faces.
Those who agreed with the statement were a mere 36 voters or four per cent while 10 voters or one per cent were unsure.
Azilah and Sirul, both former commandos with the Special Action Unit, were charged with murdering Altantuya Shaariibuu at Mukim Bukit Raja, Selangor, between 9.54am on Oct 18 and 9.45pm on Oct 19, 2006.