Lawyers for Liberty are gravely concerned to hear the news that student activist Wong Yan Ke was arrested for recording a police raid in connection to a sedition investigation involving the University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany).
The arrest was purportedly because the student activist refused to stop recording the raid, which the police allege is tantamount to “obstructing a public officer”, an offence under Section 186 of the Penal Code.
LFL strongly condemns the arrest as well as the absurd insinuation that recording the police is an offence under Section 186 of the Penal Code. The arrest is not justified by mere reference to that provision as the police so far have not offered any explanation as to how the act of recording the raid has impeded their investigation.
Video-recording the police is not a crime, and it is for the authorities to justify how it would obstruct them from carrying out their duties. Section 186 of the Penal Code must not be used as a blanket provision to simply arrest anyone who records police conduct, as there is no law to suggest that doing so is against the law.
It is important for us to bear in mind that the police are currently in the process of implementing the use of body cameras, a move that the inspector general of police himself has said would ensure transparency and prevent abuse of duties by enforcement personnel. Hence, the police cannot now turn around and say that video-recording of their actions will impede them from executing their duties.
The importance of recordings of police conduct cannot be understated. In the US, many acts of police misconduct and brutality came to light solely from video recordings from body cameras or by members of the public. It has become one of the best tools to ensure police accountability and must not easily be deterred under the guise of obstruction of police duty.
We therefore urge the police to immediately release Wong Yan Ke and cease all investigations under Section 186 of the Penal Code. We also call upon the inspector general to condemn this arrest and issue a standing order to stop the wanton usage of Section 186 against members of the public.
Zaid Malek is the coordinator of Lawyers for Liberty
8 November 2020