Public confidence in police plummets

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Martin Jalleh highlights the ‘performance’ of the police force in recent times and in the process shows the reasons for the failure of the government’s professed intention of improving the level of public confidence in the country’s police force.

Police move in at the vigil in Petaling Jaya to mark 50 years of the ISA on 1 August 2010 - Photo courtesy of sayaanakbangsamalaysia.net

 

The reader will be able to see how in 2010, the police:

  • aggressively and indiscriminately denied certain citizens the constitutional right to the freedom of speech and assembly
  • abused and used arbitrarily the wide powers of arrest and detention
  • acted with impunity and complete disregard for constitutional and judicial safeguards.
  • arrogantly showed their contempt for the rights of the people that resulted in gross abuse of police powers leading to brutality, torture, prolonged detention, shooting, custodial violence and death.

Police preferred to play politics

In March 2010, then then IGP Musa Hassan’s insisted that “the police did not take into account the political leanings of anyone, including politicians, when conducting their investigation…”

Musa was only fooling himself. There were ample examples in 2010 of the police being blatantly and brazenly biased towards the powers-that-be. This can be especially seen in the double standards it displayed.

Umno and its cohorts have never had to bear up with any blinding tear gas or burning chemical-laced water from a water cannon. They were never brutalised or bludgeoned by the batons of bullies in blue or bundled into police vehicles or beaten up in police cells.

In 2010, the police appeared to believe in and guarded Umno’s constitutional right to the freedom of speech and assembly. They were guaranteed convenient and comfortable passage to and from the place they held their demonstrations. No action was taken even though it was later confirmed it was an “illegal gathering”.

Such was the case when in February 2010 about 300 Umno Youth, Perkasa and MIC Youth members besieged the Australian High Commission to protest against the 50 Australian Members of Parliament who had called for the sodomy charges against Anwar Ibrahim to be dropped.

In the same month, police gave their blessings to some 1,000 members of Perkasa and Selangor Umno to march from the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque to the Selangor State Secretariat building to protest the state government’s handling of the quit rent issue involving Yayasan Basmi Kemiskinan.

In sharp contrast, police subjected the Opposition to ‘petty prosecutions’. They made it their job to deny, disturb, disrupt and derail events organised by the Opposition, civil groups or concerned citizens.

In March 2010, they disrupted PR gatherings in Kepong and Kelab Sultan Sulaiman field, held to celebrate the second anniversary of the alliance’s 8 March 2008 success. In July 2010, they “ambushed” a dinner-talk in Rengit, Johor. Such senseless police aggression was also seen in Changkat Lada, Perak and many other places throughout 2010.

In March, acting on police reports made by the police themselves, the police interrogated Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim over ‘sensitive issues’ which he had supposedly raised during his ceremahs in Penang. Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and about 15 other elected representatives were also questioned.

“I think this is too much…We strongly resent and protest this continued intimidation by the police force… the police are out to prevent us from carrying out our duties. They should focus on problems of security and criminals and not be subservient to Umno leaders,” Anwar lambasted the police.

On 1 August 2010, 30 people were arrested in Petaling Jaya for attending an anti-ISA candlelight vigil to observe the 50th anniversary of the ISA. On that same night, police also arrested four people in another vigil held at the Speakers’ Square in Penang.

Police confirmed that they knew of the presence at the same spot of pro-ISA members believed to be Umno representatives and that they were there “to create trouble and agitate”. Yet, no one amongst that group was reprimanded or arrested.

The police also stood idly by when a group of pro-ISA protesters disrupted an Anti-ISA Forum in Penang in November 2010. Would the police do the same if a group were to disrupt a forum organised by Umno?

The year ended with the men in blue at their biased best! On 5 December 2010, riot police fired tear gas and sprayed chemical-laced water to disperse some 3,000 protesters as they attempted to march to Istana Negara to submit a memorandum urging the King to intervene in an on-going dispute between the state government and water management company Syabas. About 50 protesters were also arrested.

Of course, the police did not mind the 300 or so protestors of the Gabungan Anti-Penyelewengan Selangor (Gaps) or Anti-Selangor Government Movement gathered at Stadium Merdeka. They sent a delegation to the palace by car and submitted a memorandum on the water issue to a palace representative.

From the examples given above and still more, the police failed to “act fairly, independently and professionally” in 2010. They remained for yet another year – the police farce!

Burgeoning brutality by the men in blue

It was yet another year when the police were allowed to continue to operate in an environment of impunity when it came to their excessive methods in relation to arrest, detention and treatment of persons in custody.

Two tragic episodes in the year made the culture of police brutality increasingly obvious and gave further credence to the accusation that Bolehland has become a Police State.

The first was an ‘open verdict’ delivered by a coroner’s court on 25 October 2010 in an inquest to determine the cause of R Gunasegaran’s death in the Sentul police station on 16 July 2009, a few hours after Teoh Beng Hock’s body was discovered.

In a press statement entitled “End Police Brutality now” a “deeply concerned” Malaysian Bar criticised the “inability of the coroner to make a definitive finding in this case” in spite of “the strength of the evidence pointing to the culpability of the police”.

The second was the shocking story of K Selvach Santhiran, a key witness who implicated the police in the inquest. His lawyer, N Surendran, would describe his client’s nightmare as “the continuing descent of the police force into lawlessness”.

Police arrested Selvach on the very night of the inquest verdict. They hammered and humiliated him in front of his wife and children and hauled him off. For the next five days, neither the IGP nor the Home Minister would confirm that Selvach had been arrested despite rising public misgivings.

On 30 October 2010., pressured by the presence of more than a hundred people in front of Bukit Aman and their refusal to disperse, police revealed that Selvach was remanded under the Dangerous Drugs Act. (Selvach, who was arrested together with Gunasegaran, was cleared of drug charges when his urine tested negative in 2008.)

After a very brief visit with Selvach, his wife S Saraswathy, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) revealed that Selvach had been tortured during his one week’s detention and taken to a hospital. A habeas corpus application was prepared to get Selvach released from remand.

Police ‘sabotaged’ the habeas corpus hearing by obtaining a two-year detention order by Home Minister Hishammudin Tun Hussein against Selvach. Selvach was transferred to the Batu Gajah Detention Camp on 14 December 2010 and was not given a chance to meet his family members.

The injustice done to Selvach was not an isolated incident. The ‘memorandum of protest’ to the IGP submitted by LFL and Suaram on behalf of Selvach’s family accurately describes the detention as “…a continuation of a longstanding series of acts by the police that showed their contempt for the rights of the people…”

The police were sending out a very strong message – think twice before you testify against us; we will teach you a lesson; you will be tortured, taken from your home and thrown into prison with the tacit approval of the higher authorities!

There were further examples of the police’s culture of impunity in 2010 such as the high-handed manner in which police dealt with the participants of the peaceful assembly who gathered at Masjid Negara on 5 December 2010 and the alleged beating and robbing of businessman Chia Buang Ting by several police officers .

Firestorm over fatal police shootings

There was deep concern and consternation throughout 2010 over what the public perceived as a growing ‘shoot-to-kill’ culture by the police force or what R. Sivarasa, the MP for Subang, called “a culture of impunity”.

“It means that they feel that they can do as they wish and they won’t be held accountable… they can shoot, kill, and there won’t be any questions asked (or)… any investigations and that they can continue doing so,” he said.

The nationwide concern over the trigger-happy cops of PDRM culminated in public outraged in April 2010 with the police killing of 14-year old Form III student Aminulrasyid Hamza.h about 100 metres from his Shah Alam house.

The callous responses and cavalier attitude of the IGP, Home Minister and the police as they tried to contain the public firestorm caused the public to lose confidence in them and repeatedly called for the IGP to resign.

Respected lawyer Art Harun captured the sentiments of the people so clearly: “Right-minded people of Malaysia regard the killing of Aminulrasyid as symptomatic of lawless totalitarianism.”

“But that which makes this case all the more nauseating is not so much that this totally unnecessary killing of a 14-year-old boy had happened, but rather the responses by various parties – those people upon whom our security is entrusted – during the aftermath.

“The responses have been anything but humane, sensitive or even caring. They are arrogant, defensive and downright rude. Where is the love? Where is the humility? Doesn’t it occur to these people that they occupy seats of trust?”

Further, the police have become very predictable with their pat responses: “The dead were criminals. They behaved in a suspicious manner. They tried to evade/resist arrest. They drove away dangerously. Weapons were later found. Police acted by the rules. The law allows them to defend themselves” (Free Malaysia Today).

Cold blooded

Seven months after Aminulrasyid was gunned down, three youths between the ages of 15 and 22 were shot dead after a reported high-speed car chase in Shah Alam. They were suspected of robbing a petrol station. Two of the families of the trio alleged they were killed by the police in cold blood.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political divide demanded that newly-installed IGP Ismail Omar end the indiscriminate fatal police shootings. DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang declared: “It would appear that with the change of IGP, there is no change in the police culture as such.”

Before the year ended, human rights and legal reform advocates Lawyers for Liberty highlighted the seriousness of the situation. The number of fatal shootings by the police rose 17-fold since 2001 – from five in 2001 to a shocking total of 82 in 2008 and 88 in 2009.

Judging from Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s curt, cold and caustic response, it is very clear that such ‘extrajudicial killings’ will continue in Bolehland! He said there was no surge in the number of fatal shootings. The matter was just being “sensationalised” in parliament. There could be a “slight increase” after all.

Hishammuddin’s continued his hogwash: “Let the police respond on the data …If not, I would be asked this question every day when there are other serious matters to respond to”. The data provided was from the police themselves! And what is more “serious” than the safety and security of innocent Malaysians?

There were also those who were shot by the police but who managed to survive, the latest being Ho Chei Hang who was shot four times by plainclothes police officers in Kepong in November 2010. The story of Norizan Salleh who was mistakenly shot five times by police officers in 2009 continued to receive public attention in 2010.

It is evident that the only effective way to keep the police in check and the only convincing government action is the formation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). Sadly, the federal government has proven to be a big hindrance to such a necessary move, and for obvious reasons.

Curbing crimes:  Raw stats or real story

The rakyat was told that the government’s battle against crime showed good results in 2010. Home Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein announced in May 2010 that his Ministry’s success in reducing the crime rate index for the first four months of the year had surpassed the initial target.

Minister in the PM’s Department Senator Idris Jala claimed that the results of the National Key Results Area (NKRA) for crime were outstanding for the first quarter and what the police and the ministry had done in that period was totally beyond expectation.

In October 2010, an elated IGP Ismail Omar proudly declared that police statistics indicated a significant drop in street crime by 38 per cent and in the overall crime index by 16 per cent in January-September 2010.

But strangely, and as was so aptly put by Lim Kit Siang in October 2010, “…up and down the country, ordinary Malaysians do not feel this dividend of fall of crime index in their daily lives as they do not feel comparatively safer in the streets, public places or privacy of their homes…”

In fact Kit Siang’s sentiments were so eloquently echoed by former Deputy Bank Negara Governor Lin See Yin, in his article ‘The mystique of national transformation’ which appeared online before 2010 ended:

“As I see it, discernible progress in four areas of priority concern to the rakyat and investors needs to come early enough to build confidence. They are corruption, crime, education and private enterprise.

“It is not enough to show that in the first nine months of 2010, crime fell by 16 per cent (but still have 132,355 unresolved reported cases) and street crimes fell 38 per cent (18,299 unresolved reported cases) or that 648 people were arrested for corruption.

“The public and investors (with ears on the ground) have to “feel” any improvement. Raw and biased statistics cannot tell the real story, and don’t impress. At this time, it would appear the rakyat and investors don’t ‘feel’ any material improvement in the crime and corruption situation. That matters. But they don’t rush to judgment.

“What they want to ‘feel’ is for today to be better than yesterday, and tomorrow to be better than today; and come tomorrow, their expectations are fulfilled. Incidents from personal experience reinforce this.”

Perhaps the public would feel more confident about the police, about being more safe and secure and that the statistics truly reflect the crime rate reality – when the police stop playing politics and the government sets up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

Martin Jalleh, a well known political commentator, is a regular contributor to Aliran Monthly

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