Cease public accusations of immorality against women – Madpet

JUAN PABLO SERRANO ARENAS/ PEXELS

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When women are arrested, and the media reports that it was an “anti-prostitution” or raid or crackdown on “GROs” [guest relations officers], the impression that many will naturally get is that these women are sex criminals or women of bad character – which may be in fact totally false for they may simply be innocent women frequenting an entertainment outlet who were wrongly arrested.

It is worse if the media report carries photos or video images. Why did the police provide information to the media, knowing very wellthese women may not have committed any crime whatsoever? There is a presumption of innocence until the court (not the police) finds them guilty.

The women’s image or reputation is not even partially cleared or restored because the media or the police often fail to make any follow-up statements or reports on what happened to these arrested women or that they have been found innocent. We also see almost no reports of the women charged for any of these crimes.

End the prejudice and actions promoting prejudice against women, including women from certain specific countries, who are found to be in certain business facilities in Malaysia when the police raid and arrest people.

If the business is illegal, then action must be taken against the owners of such businesses, but not against the workers and other patrons of the business.

Raids and arrests

There has been numerous media reports of foreign women being arrested and detained during raids  at certain premises, which creates the perception that they may be involved in a prostitution ring or working as ‘illegal’ GROs – but then they may just be innocent tourists or migrant workers enjoying a night out.

In June 64 foreign women were detained after authorities busted a prostitution ring operation.

In July, police arrested 84 foreign women believed to be working as GROs during a raid on an entertainment centre in Bukit Bintang.

In September, it was reported that police arrested 24 foreign and local individuals for providing GRO services in a raid on two entertainment centres in Cheras.

Prolonging prejudice

There is after [such arrests] almost no news whether these women are being charged in court, accorded a fair trial and convicted, or that they are innocent. Why is that?

If they committed a crime, they would have been charged in court and tried. If they were victims of trafficking, they would be accorded protection as victims.

The fact that there is no follow-up news raises the possibility that innocent persons are wrongly arrested, maybe even defamed, making one wonder about the real reasons for these raids and the reasons behind law enforcement’s act of informing the media.

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Is it merely to show that the police are actively doing their job?

Maybe the home minister must explain these raids, as the arresting and detaining of tourists or even migrant workers do cause injustice, in terms of spoiling their holiday or affecting their employment or business.

More arrests

Recently, on 16 October Bernama, the Malaysian national news agency, reported that police had detained 207 foreign nationals in raids carried out at six entertainment outlets in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Johor on 12-15 October. Among the foreigners nabbed were Thai, Laotian and Vietnamese women, aged between 19 and 51.

In one raid, 73 foreign nationals, aged between 20 and 44, believed to be working as GROs, were detained during a raid in Serdang,

Tourists’ holidays in Malaysia are affected if they are arrested and detained for a period. Social visit passes may expire in detention, making them undocumented. They may miss their flights too. With the language difficulty of foreign nationals and their unfamiliarity with the law and legal procedures, injustice can happen.

The worry is that even if they are brought to court, although innocent, the poor or foreign nationals may plead guilty simply to be able to get back to their home countries speedily.

Make search warrants mandatory

One thing that was lacking in this recent national news agency report was the mention of what exactly were the suspected crimes that led to these police raids and arrests by the Bukit Aman Crimininal Investigation Department’s anti-vice, gambling and secret societies division (D7) in one case.

Was it a raid that happened on the basis of ‘raid, arrest and hope that some in there will have committed drug or immigration crimes or other crimes’?

The police do not need a warrant to do a premises search if the case they are investigating involves an arrestable offence, said Penang police chief Mohd Shuhaily Mohd Zain.

This is wrong, and it can lead to abuse of power by the police. The law must change.

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) calls for an amendment to the law so that it is mandatory for the police to get search warrants issued by judges before any raids, to also prevent abuse of power.

Police raids also can be because of [alleged] ‘corruption’ – the ‘kaw-tim’ or ‘settle’ culture’ – where after arrested, an [alleged] payment can result in release, end of investigation and no prosecution.

Police raids reasonably may benefit competitors in the same or similar businesses. If places are subjected to police raids, where the patrons are also arrested, detained and even subjected to urine tests, then many customers will simply avoid such establishments.

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Discrimination?

The raids were allegedly on entertainment outlets ‘controlled’ by foreigners, which hints of discrimination. It certainly is not illegal in Malaysia for businesses to be owned and run by foreigners, fully or partially. Even in Malaysian-owned businesses, many are run and even managed by foreigners.

One wonders whether similar raids and arrest will happen in clubs and entertainment outlets frequented by the rich or the upper classes? Will there be same treatment by the police?

Remember, the Article 8(1) constitutional guarantee that “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”.

Why Bukit Aman and not local officers?

The premises mentioned in the 16 October report were in operation for “for three months to one year”, and this raises the presumption that they are all legally registered business premises.

The local government is the relevant authority that grants permission and even advertisement for any business premises, including these entertainment outlets, in their area of governance.

The question that arises is, why didn’t the relevant local government enforcement officers act?

Why was it the Bukit Aman police and not the local police who carried out the raid? Was it so because there was concern of  [alleged] ‘corruption’ related to the raided premises involving the local police, or local government (council) staff and officers? Will corrupt officers inform the premises in advance of raids? Will the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission investigate?

The Bernama report made no allegation that any of the foreign nationals were found to be illegally in Malaysia, and as such, we may assume they all had relevant social visit visas or employment or business visas.

GROs not illegal work?

The job of GROs is not illegal, so the government, police and media must be careful not to demean this occupation.

In entertainment outlets like restaurants, bars, spas and entertainment places, just like in other small consumer-dependent businesses, the idea is to be good to customers so that they will come again, and thus [this is] the work of frontline staff and even GROs.

If the customer requests your company for a certain duration for a fee, it is legitimate work and there is nothing illegal whatsoever as the rate is for time spent.

Note that customers at entertainment outlets also meet ‘strangers’ and spend some time interacting. So, were these women even ‘GROs’ or were they simply fellow patrons or people visiting friends?

Note that in Malaysia, prostitution is against the law – “a female offering her body for promiscuous sexual intercourse for hire” is an offence, a crime. So, if there is no issue of hiring for “sexual intercourse”, it is no crime.

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Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) calls on the government, including the police and law enforcement, to stop the arrests and detention of arbitrary women or other people, including foreign nationals, save when there is real, reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime;

Madpet calls for an end to defamatory practices particularly affecting the reputation of women, including the issuing or making of statements or providing pictures to the media, which creates the perception that the women who are arrested may be involved in immoral or illegal work or crime.

The presumption of innocence until found guilty in court must be recognised and practised.

Madpet calls for the full disclosure of what happened to the people arrested in these raids, whether investigations revealed them to be innocent or whether they were charged in court.

A public apology in the media is a just means to attempt to correct the wrong public perception generated. They may simply be innocent victims, including women, who have committed no immoral illegal acts.

Madpet calls for laws to be amended to require a warrant for a search, arrest or raid, issued by judges, before any such raids of premises are conducted – where judges will evaluate to see whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a police search, raid or arrest. To leave it to the police to do as they please [poses] risks and even possible abuse of power.

Madpet calls for the recognition of the right for a person to [refuse] urine or blood tests and the taking of other bodily samples. A court order should be a prerequisite. There must be reasonable suspicion, not simply the fact that one is found in a particular premises during a raid, before urine samples can be obtained.

Madpet also notes that on 19 August, two deputy public prosecutors (DPPs) and 15 cops were arrested in an entertainment outlet, and the urine tests was positive for all but one police officer.

On 11 October, it was reported that the investigation paper regarding a senior officer and 14 policemen arrested during a raid at an entertainment outlet in Seremban last August had been referred to the deputy public prosecutor for further action. However, there was no mention about the two DPPs.

Everyone is equal and should be accorded equal treatment under the law. Charge them in court, and do not not simply use internal disciplinary measures. – Madpet

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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