Article contributed by Shangkarananda s/o Kanan, Member, Bar Council Task Force on Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (“IPCMC”) and Police Accountability; and photos by Jul Indra Tofan, Administrative Assistant, Bar Council
On 2 Mar 2018 (Friday), approximately 75 people attended this highly driven forum. The crowd was in the company of a distinguished panel that consisted of:
(1) Mah Weng Kwai, Commissioner of Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (“SUHAKAM”);
(2) Sevan Doraisamy, Executive Director of Suara Rakyat Malaysia (“SUARAM”);
(3) Ivy Josiah, Secretary–General of Society for the Promotion of Human Rights Malaysia (“PROHAM”); and
(4) M Visvanathan, Founder of Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (“EDICT”).
The moderator was M Ramachelvam, Co–Chairperson of the Bar Council Task Force on Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission ("IPCMC") and Police Accountability. Other notable attendees were Tan Sri Razali b Ismail (Chairman of SUHAKAM), Cynthia Gabriel (Founding Director of the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism ("C4")), media reporters, members of non–governmental organisations ("NGOs"), representatives from embassies, and the public. Polis Diraja Malaysia ("PDRM") had been sent invitations, but no one was present to speak on behalf of that institution.
The event kicked off at 3:20 pm with a speech by Roger Chan Weng Keng, Secretary of the Malaysian Bar. He pointed out that only a day ago, the present Government announced the creation of the National Human Rights Action Plan ("NHRAP"). He also made the observation that no deaths in custody had taken place this year up to the date of the forum.
The next speaker was Kuthubul Zaman Bukhari, Co–Chairperson of the Bar Council Task Force on IPCMC and Police Accountability, who gave a brief history leading to the call for setting up the IPCMC. He invited the listeners to consider the challenges faced especially in relation to high crime rate, public perception on corruption, abuse of power, and non–compliance by PDRM. These in return bring about a domino effect which becomes a generally accepted wrong that is carried on by the next generation of the police. Then there becomes this "blue wall of silence" when this "culture" of disregard for human rights, life and liberty is looked the other way.
The next speaker was Tan Sri Razali b Ismail. His speech tackled issues with regard to enhancing public confidence in the police force, accountable policing, and policing in the public interest. The role of the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission ("EAIC") was also discussed. He also expressed that the use of technology was vital in the future of enhancing police accountability. He then made the case that the true change from PDRM must come from within which would include better resources and coordination. He made it clear that it must never be an "us–vs–them" mentality.
At 4:00 pm, a slide show compiled by Sivaraj Retinasekharan, member of the Bar Council Task Force on IPCMC and Police Accountability, was presented. This slide show contained graphic pictures of cadavers after post–mortem examinations. Important statistics, newspaper reports and post–mortem findings were shown. Under Section 334 of the Criminal Procedure Code, any deaths in custody must undergo an inquiry. However, in many instances these deaths were concluded as "accidental".
Mah Weng Kwai, former Judge of the Court of Appeal, then took the stage. He previously presided over the Teoh Beng Hock inquiry. He highlighted the mechanics on arrest and remand according to the Police Act 1967 and spoke briefly on the Sedition Act 1948. Mah Weng Kwai took a very recent example of a popular blogger and YouTube artist, Namewee who was arrested and remanded for seven days. Next was a discussion on the selective enforcement of order which was relevant with the Indira Ghandi's case, where the then–Inspector General of Police ("IGP") did not carry out an order by the High Court.
Other examples of abuse by the police that were discussed were as follows:
(1) Use of chain remand to force the detainee to make illegal confessions. For example, 60 days under the Prevention of Crime (Amendment) Act 2017 ("POCAA") + 28 days under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 ("SOSMA") = 88 days;
(2) Juveniles arrested under the Prevention of Crime Act 2013 ("POCA") and fixed with electronic monitoring devices; and
(3) Spitting in mouth during fasting time, picking up rubber bands with mouth, forced masturbation, solitary confinement, etc.
The next speaker was Ivy Josiah, who spoke valiantly armed with her vast experience as a seasoned activist. She shared one of her findings that there are so–called 'gold departments' in the police departments. These 'gold departments' were places where allegedly there were alternative means of making money by abusing their powers. It was also not uncommon that items kept in the police archives, such as items recovered from criminals, were missing or unable to be found. Political will by the NGOs were also another topic which was put forward.
M Visvanathan narrated a real life story which took place at a Tapah police station. In this case, there were many discrepancies inside the lock–up diary of one person who died in police custody during a chain remand. Even more shocking was that the accused was taken in and out of the lock–up by police officers not related to his case.
Other interesting and relevant issues included the high police shooting rate at migrants, approximately 50%, with Indonesians topping the statistics. Mah Weng Kwai pointed out that contrary to popular belief, the police are not required to make any warning shots to the suspects. He subsequently stated that unlike most other countries that require their police to shoot at areas below the waist to avoid loss of life, that practice is not required by PDRM. M Ramachelvam added that the Malaysian Bar actively holds watching briefs for cases involving victims of shooting by the police. He added that if necessary, a civil suit can also be filed to seek damages from the Government due to the negligence or recklessness of the police.
After the question–and–answer session, the forum ended at approximately 6:15 pm with the presentation of tokens of appreciation to the distinguished panellists. One of the concluding suggestions to improve police accountability was to increase human rights training among police personnel. In addition, Magistrates who have the authority to give remand orders should be empowered to avoid chain remands.