When Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced the retrial of the 2006 murder of Mongolian Altantuya Shaariibuu recently following “new leads”, it made me reflect the almost 10 years I spent as a court reporter.
I started out in the media industry in 2001 and eventually went into the court desk a few years later. On the first day, I remember being nervous and petrified of the court formalities as well as the jargon they used. After all, I had no law background.
But it was ‘sink or swim’ methodology in the newsroom those days where news editors didn’t really give you their time in guiding you. I decided to swim.
While not many would have preferred to stay in the court beat, I began picking up court jargon, grew accustomed to the formalities, and I began to like it.
Since then, I have covered dozens of murder, rape, incest and civil cases, including the Altantuya murder trial. Some unforgettable ones involved gruesome deaths like being shot and blown up with explosives, raped and burnt to death, and individuals beating and abusing their step children in the most unimaginable way, just to name a few.
I grew numb to seeing post-mortem photographs, listening to detailed grisly testimonies and being shouted at for intruding into family members’ of accused persons and victims.
I have had the family members of those involved shouting profanities at me, threatening to push me down the stairs, spitting at me, and have even seen (and heard) certain individuals allegedly practising “black magic” in the court’s compound for their own interest … you name it.
After awhile, I think nothing could surprise me anymore.
It is hard to explain the courtroom atmosphere. It can be intense or boring, and humorous or tragic. On difficult days, it can also be heartbreaking to see young children waving at parents or grandparents from the public gallery and dock.
There were days it became monotonous where only documents were tendered, but there were also highly charged-up drama days where lawyers, prosecutors and even judges had a war of words.
As a court reporter, you never knew how your day would go. It could just be work in the morning, or just the afternoon, or the whole day depending on the court. It was very much a waiting game.
And by 2013, I think I had had enough. While all these experiences made me thick-skinned and taught me how to tread more carefully, it also made me more paranoid on how scary the world can be. I moved to seek greener pastures, and eventually decided to leave the media industry.
Yes, it was challenging. But looking back, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat simply because this experience has humbled me and taught me the hard reality of life. I had also developed rapport with court police officers, interpreters, prosecutors, lawyers and judges.
Most importantly, it was the friends I made, and the camaraderie with other court reporters who until today have remained some of my closest friends.