This article was first published on The Online Citizen
OPINION — M Ravi was once famed for his brilliant oratorical skills and taking on cases that many would shy away from. These days, he is more commonly known for his buffoonish behaviour and baseless tirades on Facebook Live. He has become, as the image above suggests, a ghost of his former self.
When viewed in the context of how he has been medically diagnosed with bipolar disorder, one may be able to understand why he is behaving in such a manner. M Ravi has had manic relapses in the past, and the consequences of such relapses have ranged from being forcibly remanded in the Institute of Mental Health (“IMH”) to, more recently, being denied a practicing certificate.
By his own admission and the accounts of those close to him, he has consistently refused to seek treatment and take his pills. He has also lashed out, which some may say is an understatement, at anyone around him who suggests that he rests or seeks professional help.
Armed with Facebook Live, he now has a new outlet that gives him access to thousands of people who tune in for entertainment, where he proceeds to bash those who have stood by him.
One such example is criminal and human rights lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam. When Ravi was suspended from the Bar, Mr Thuraisingam helped him argue against his suspension in court. Mr Thuraisingam also offered him a job as Head Knowledge Manager — as Ravi is now a non-practising lawyer — at his firm.
In the infancy of his current manic relapse, Ravi lambasted Mr Thuraisingam on a Facebook Live video. Even after that, Mr Thuraisingam accepted his apology and allowed him back into the firm. Since then, Mr Thuraisingam realized that Ravi’s repeated harassment of his staff and his frequent baseless denunciations of him and the firm could not be tolerated any longer, and he proceeded to terminate his contract.
From his former employer to civil society activists, many good people have fallen victim to Ravi’s ire. Those who have known Ravi for a long time have opined that this manic relapse, with the availability of Facebook Live, has been the worst.
During past relapses, he has been known to cross-dress, dance and hug trees. Most of the time, his actions have only affected those close to him and himself. However, over the past two weeks, his actions have adversely affected a literal life-and-death situation.
Over his legal career, Ravi has taken on many death penalty cases. The most famous, arguably, was that of Yong Vui Kong’s, where Ravi helped him escape the noose. Needless to say, he took on those cases when he was mentally fit. In the past, he also has been reasonable enough to relinquish all cases, especially capital cases, to other lawyers during his manic relapses. But not this time.
M Ravi and the Case of Prabagaran
Prabagaran was executed by hanging at dawn on July 15 after a five-year battle in court. On the afternoon of July 13, Singapore’s apex court heard a final appeal for a stay of execution. As the issue before the courts was whether a case that has yet to run its course in Malaysia with regards to Praba’s right to a fair trial would justify a stay of execution, two human rights lawyers from the Malaysian Bar — Mr N Surendran MP and Mdm Latheefa Koya — assisted Mr Remy Choo Zhengxi, Praba’s counsel, at the hearing.
Mdm Latheefa and Mr N Surendran have taken on many high profile cases across the border, and they are the co-founders of Lawyers for Liberty.
M Ravi assisted Mr Kanagavijayan when he was representing Prabagaran in high court. Ravi was never lead counsel for Prabagaran at any point of time, but he was the point of contact for his family. During the time he was assisting Mr Vijayan, Ravi made Praba’s mother, Mdm Eswari, his domestic helper of sorts by making her cook and deliver lunch to his office. He didn’t pay her for her deeds, but actually demanded that she paid him for legal fees instead.
When President Tony Tan rejected Praba’s clemency petition last week, Praba’s family was informed that his execution had been set for July 14. Consequently, Mdm Eswari repeatedly contacted Ravi to no avail. Although Ravi was active on social media, he did not return any of Mdm Eswari’s calls. Out of desperation, Mdm Eswari made her way to Ravi’s house. Even then, Ravi ignored her. Thankfully, she was able to contact Mr Vijayan, who then put her in touch with Mr Choo.
Mr Choo was then instructed by Mdm Eswari to act for Praba. He then filed for a hearing which was set for July 13. Although he was not instructed by the family, M Ravi had also filed an application on behalf of Praba, which was set to be heard alongside his application.
In the Court of Appeal
Even before the start of the hearing, he implored Mdm Eswari to dismiss Mr Choo as her lawyer and choose him instead. He said, “Do you want your son to die? If you don’t, choose me as your lawyer. Why do you trust this Chinese guy?”
Mdm Eswari, who was already distraught, held her ground. How anyone could ask a grieving mother such a question was beyond us. He then proceeded to ask Praba himself if he wanted to die. The two Malaysian lawyers present helped console the family and shielded them from Ravi.
Throughout the hearing, whenever the judges disagreed with Mr Choo, Ravi nodded his head in agreement and expressed verbal agreement with the judges. Ravi also kicked Mr Choo’s chair as he was speaking.
When it came time for Ravi to present his case, the gallery was aghast when the judges revealed that his applications for Praba were only a couple paragraphs long and he had no submissions. His oral arguments were utterly irrelevant and had more to do with himself than with Praba. He spoke about his sexuality, why he wanted to wear a sari to court, and how the police violated his rights as a pansexual when he was arrested for criminal trespassing.
Here was what Mdm Latheefa said of Ravi’s actions during the hearing, in response to a Facebook Live video where Ravi had the gall and temerity to hold Mr Choo responsible for Praba’s death.
Mr N Surendran, who is also MP for Padang Serai, had this to say.
As the DPP made his arguments, Ravi left his seat to proceed to the gallery. This time, instead of pleading with Mdm Eswari, he started to accuse her in Tamil of killing her son. Fortunately, Mr Surendran stepped in and confronted Ravi, who then shied away and accused the police of not protecting him against Mr Surendran.
Many in the courtroom were surprised by the amount of patience that the judges showed Ravi. One has to keep in mind that that was, in all likelihood, Praba’s last night on earth and therefore, the more time Ravi wasted ‘arguing’, the less time Praba would have to see his family.
It took the judges no more than two sentences to dismiss Ravi’s application. The prosecution also sought a cost order against Ravi by arguing that it was clear his arguments ‘were all about him and not about Praba.’ Granting a cost order in criminal cases is almost unheard of.
Ravi’s fiasco did not end there. In light of the hearing, the prison wardens had agreed with Mr Choo that afterwards, they would extend the visiting hours till 7pm in order for Praba to meet his family for one final time. They did not anticipate that the hearing, which started at 2:30pm, would drag on until 5pm because of Ravi’s submissions.
Even then, Mr Choo, the prosecution and the prison wardens were able to reach an agreement to clear the court if the judgment was not in Praba’s favour, to allow Praba’s family to meet him on the premises. After the judgment was delivered, Ravi continued to argue with the judges and questioned the whereabouts of his handphone, which ate into the precious time that Praba had with his family. In total, Ravi wasted close to one hour.
When Mr Choo and the prosecution stood up to urgently ask that the judges allow the family to meet Praba as the application has already been dismissed, Ravi scolded them for interrupting him. In the end, the judges stopped Ravi from speaking and acceded to the request. They asked that Praba leave the room and head to the basement of the Supreme Court so that his family could be with him until 7pm.
At the Vigil
On the evening of July 13 till the morning of July 14, a candlelight vigil for Prabagaran was held outside the main gate of Changi Prison. It was a relatively peaceful and solemn procession, where people from all walks of life gathered to stand in solidarity with Praba’s family.
Executions are usually carried out at the first break of dawn at 6am. At about 5:30am, Ravi, who was accompanied by George — his ardent supporter— appeared at the vigil to berate everyone there. Most of the people he confronted tried to bring him away from the grieving family by engaging him and walking away from the vigil.
After some time, he approached Mdm Eswari and told her in Tamil that “she was responsible for her son’s death as she heeded the advice of Mr Choo and the anti-death penalty activists in Singapore.” When those present confronted Ravi to take him away from the family, he held on to Mdm Eswari, insisting that she was his client. He started spewing Tamil vulgarities at the top of his voice to those who argued that he should leave the mother alone and settle whatever problems he had away from the family. He even shouted at George when he tried to restrain him. Ravi was also seen berating journalist and anti-death penalty activist, Kirsten Han.
After being separated from the family, he then proceeded to throw soya bean at a volunteer cameraman after asking him to film the scene. It was around this time that all the plainclothes policemen who were observing the vigil stepped in and restrained Ravi. They managed to keep Ravi far away from the vigil for the rest of the night. For their professionalism and sensitivity, due credit must be given.
Thankfully, at least as far as Praba’s family was concerned, that was the last they saw of Ravi. He continued his rants online.
What Should We Do?
Clearly, Ravi should not be allowed near any legal case, let alone one that involves life and death.
In the eyes of many, Ravi is a champion of humans rights. For these people, the account above will make for some uncomfortable reading, but it can be corroborated by court transcripts, the police, and first-hand accounts of all who were present at the court of appeal and the vigil. Those who continue to egg and spur him on — through Facebook Live and other means — must come to understand the effects of your encouragement.
In his current manic state, Ravi is a megalomaniac who thrives and craves attention. Every like, comment and share on his post gives him the false impression that he is a hero of the masses. In fact, to most of his entourage on Facebook, he is little more than comedic relief — this can be seen from how he repeatedly fails to raise funds, as well as the number of people that actually turn up to physically support him. He is nothing but a bad joke.
He may have mental illnesses to blame, but many of those who cheer him on don’t.
What, then, can be done to help him, you ask.
1) Don’t feed the troll
Stop giving him attention. Do not like, comment or share any of his posts. Don’t engage with him on his Facebook Live videos either. Do report his posts to Facebook — especially when they are aimed at smearing the efforts of good people. With enough reports to Facebook, his access to Facebook Live will be temporarily revoked.
2) Don’t fund the troll
He has often raised funds for legal cases, but when one actually views his submissions — like in the case of Prabagaran, where they were only a couple paragraphs long — they will realise that their money is not being used to fund the defense of the downtrodden. In the case of the Elected Presidency, for example, his submissions were deemed “… unmeritorious in almost every conceivable aspect …” and dismissed with costs.
3) Advise him to seek medical help
To date, anyone close to him who suggests that he seeks help will be denounced. If one has the time to interact with him, on Facebook or in person, one should urge him to seek professional help. The more people continue to urge him to seek professional help, the more he may be more convinced to do so. There is also the possibility that the court will order him to be remanded again at IMH.
4) Educate his supporters about the real M Ravi
If you know anyone who still supports him on Facebook and in real life, share this article with them to educate them on the consequences of their support. He can only blame his illness in so far as he is willing to seek treatment for it. It is irresponsible for him to commit to cases that he later drops or fumbles when he enters a manic phase.
The fall of M Ravi may be dastardly painful to watch, but more importantly, he is a clear and present danger to anyone who, based on his previous fame and feats, makes the mistake of engaging him, whether directly or indirectly, for legal help or representation. He will jeopardize and imperil their case or defense. The trauma that he causes will remain for a very long time to these people’s families, as he may negate any merits and ensure a conviction. Worse still, he may even go on to lay blame at their feet.
That he requires professional help is obvious, but this publication humbly submits that it is now needed with paramount urgency.
Editor’s note: Kirsten Han has since spoken about her own thoughts on Ravi’s downward spiral.
As for Ravi himself, he announced that he’s taking “a deserved break”.
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