Misuse of enforcement, investigative powers must cease, says Bar

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Rafizi Ramli - Photograph: Keadilan Daily

Steven Thiru urges the authorities to respect the rule of law and to cease misusing their powers to oppress individuals.

The Malaysian Bar is perturbed by the apparent misuse of enforcement powers, as recently seen in two incidents: the raid by Jabatan Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan (the Federal Territories Islamic Affairs Department (Jawi) at the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel, and the arrest of Member of Parliament for Pandan Mohd Rafizi Ramli at the gates of Parliament.

It has been reported that on 3 April 2016, Jawi officers entered a closed-door charity dinner event organised by the transgender community in the hotel ballroom. Accompanied by the press, the Jawi officers allegedly disrupted the event, blocked all the exits, behaved menacingly, and prevented people from leaving the ballroom. They appeared to have been preparing to arrest the attendees.

A member of the Malaysian Bar, Siti Zabedah Kasim, who was present at the event, had requested the Jawi officers to produce their warrant of arrest but they were unable to do so. Upon being contacted by Siti Zabedah Kasim, the police arrived and allowed people to exit the ballroom before leaving the hotel themselves.

Siti Zabedah Kasim and Ira Sophia, the hostess for the evening, were then arrested by the Jawi officers, and allegedly forcibly taken to the Dang Wangi District Police Station in a Jawi vehicle.

At the police station, a Jawi officer denied that Siti Zabedah Kasim was under arrest and allowed her to leave. She lodged a police report against the Jawi officers over the incident at the hotel.

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Ira Sophia was detained overnight, purportedly for investigations into alleged offences under Sections 9 and 35 of the Syariah Criminal Offences (Federal Territories) Act 1997, which deal with contempt and defiance of religious authorities and encouraging vice respectively.

On 7 April 2016, Siti Zabedah Kasim presented herself at the Dang Wangi District Police Headquarters in respect of her police report against Jawi. She was then informed that she was being arrested, purportedly for investigations into alleged offences under the Penal Code, namely Section 186 (obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his public functions) and Section 506 (criminal intimidation). She was released on police bail after her statement was recorded.

The conduct of the Jawi officers, as reported, is deplorable. There appears to have been nothing to even remotely suggest that those present at the event had committed any seizable offence under the Act. As such, the raid by the Jawi officers and their exercise of arrest powers without a warrant were unnecessary, and untenable in law.

Further, it would seem that the subsequent reliance on provisions of the Act and the Penal Code to justify the arrests of Ira Sophia and Siti Zabedah Kasim is questionable. Their arrests would be perceived to be an attempt to mask the unwarranted and colourable exercise of enforcement powers.

In the second incident, Rafizi was abruptly stopped by approximately 15 police officers as he was driving past the gates of Parliament on 5 April 2016. He was then removed from his car and taken to the Bukit Aman police headquarters. He was remanded for three days, purportedly to facilitate investigations into an alleged offence under Section 8 of the Official Secrets Act 1972, which relates to unauthorised communication of an official secret.

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He was charged on 8 April 2016 in the Sessions Court and pleaded not guilty to two charges under the OSA. He was also charged in the Magistrates’ Court and pleaded not guilty to a charge under Section 500 of the Penal Code for criminal defamation. He has been released on bail.

It is noteworthy that Rafizi had reportedly voluntarily given a statement to the police on 1 April 2016, just four days prior to his arrest and had expressed his willingness to provide further assistance to the police. Thus, it is inexplicable that the police still chose to arrest him and subsequently seek the remand order.

The arrest and remand of Rafizi are contemptible. The power to arrest and/or detain should not be exercised for purposes of questioning a person, especially when the person has cooperated — and indicated willingness to further cooperate — in the investigations. The police must not seek remand orders to intimidate, harass or punish suspected persons.

Moreover, Rafizi was arrested when the Dewan Rakyat was in session, which unduly prevented him from performing his duties in the Dewan Rakyat as the elected representative of the people of Pandan. Further, the excessive use of force by the police in conducting the arrest is unacceptable.

The lack of restraint in the exercise of enforcement powers, coupled with the disproportionate use of force, are very troubling. The Malaysian Bar does not condone the exercise of power by enforcement agencies in an arbitrary or abusive manner. We urge the authorities to respect the rule of law and to cease misusing their powers to oppress and terrorise individuals.

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Steven Thiru is president of the Malaysian Bar.

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