by Cindy Goh Joo Seong & Will Fung Jui Seng
“It is unfortunate that most people are completely ignorant of their rights. They do not have the slightest idea of what the police can or cannot do.” ... Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz
KUALA LUMPUR, Thurs: More than 60 lawyers and representatives from NGOs, the US Embassy and the press gathered at the Bar Council Auditorium this morning, all for a very noble cause, to witness the birth of a Red Book or Buku Merah known as “Polis Dan Hak–Hak Asas Anda”. (Please click here to download the English, Bahasa Malaysia and Chinese versions of the RED BOOK)
Yeo Yang Poh, the President of the Bar Council, started his speech by thanking all those in attendance, in particular, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Bin Abdul Aziz, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Law, for his valuable time to launch the Red Book.
“I must congratulate a group of dedicated lawyers known as TANGKAP, in working tirelessly to produce the self–funded Red Book,” said Yeo in his opening speech.
“The purpose of the Red Book is aimed at disseminating valuable information so that the public would know their basic rights when faced with the Police.”
The Bar Council has also started an Online Petition two weeks ago on “Movement Towards a Better Police Force” in urging the Government to set up an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC). Yeo hoped more people will support the Petition by signing the same.
In reply, Nazri said:
“The Police forces are government organisations charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order. The main function of the police is to act as the effective prevention and detection of crime and all the powers they enjoy are geared to that end, so that law and order in the community may be maintained and preserved.
"From time to time, we are reminded that the custodians of peace are the police who are empowered to protect us from criminals. But sometimes in their fervour, a few of them do transgress and overstep the boundaries empowered to them. The Police are our protectors, and should not be the persecutor and perpetrator. It is about time the police give us a sign that says, “Kami Polis Berhemah.”
Moving on, Nazri emphasised that while the police force strives to improve itself, the citizens of this country will also help to move the process of reform along if they are aware of their rights. It is unfortunate that most people are completely ignorant of their rights. They do not have the slightest idea of what the police can or cannot do.
“The greatest defence of civil liberties is a citizenry that is conscious of its rights,” said Nazri. He added that while institutional change is extremely important it is also important that we empower our citizens to stand up for their rights.
“An individual who is aware of his rights and is prepared to exert them will in all likelihood receive better treatment by a detaining authority than an individual who is ignorant and prepared to accept any form of treatment meted out,” said Nazri.
On remand orders, Nazri said that although the Criminal Procedure Code allows remand orders to be granted not exceeding 15 days if investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours of the arrest, the Magistrates should not as a matter of 'due course' grant a remand order against the suspect without checking the desirability of such an order. The Magistrate must scrutinise the propriety of the arrest, not merely exercising their administrative role, for in many cases there is no logical connection between the length of remand period and the alleged offence.
“Very often, the family members and lawyers are made to run around concerning the place of detention. A telephone call is not regarded as a right and is discretionary, the de facto Minister of Law said.
He said all these concerns, added by the ignorance on the part of citizenry, do not seem to augur well for the state of human rights in this country.
Nazri is glad to see the Bar Council living up to its statutory purpose “to facilitate the acquisition of legal knowledge by members of the legal profession and others” and to “protect and assist the public in all matters touching, ancillary or incidental to the law” [Legal Profession Act s. 42(2)(C)& (G)].
Before announcing the official launch of the Red Book, he congratulated the group behind the Bar Council which has made this possible. This group has tirelessly spent weeks in perfecting the book and this informal group is known as the “Tindakan ANti penyalahGunaan KuasA Polis” group or TANGKAP.
“TANGKAP have initiated this effort of creating awareness and to provide an easy step by step guideline which would be most beneficial in ensuring that everyone has legal access and to ensure his/her rights are protected. It is not a code against the police, but more of informative codes to ensure personal freedom and dignity,” stressed Nazri. The Red Book contains four major languages, in Bahasa Malaysia, English, Chinese and Tamil.
Finally, Nazri said he actually went through the contents of the Red Book thoroughly, and found the little pocket sized Red Book containing a wealth of information in the language of the layman, and he was impressed to see that TANGKAP has taken pains to ensure the public are educated not only on their rights when confronted by the police, but also some practical advice to the public with regard to their responsibilities to assist the police, for e.g. in paragraphs 3.2 & 3.3 to co–operate with police if possible even when not under arrest.
The Minister, accompanied by Yeo and a group of Tangkapers then went to Central Market to distribute thousands of copies of the Red Book to the public.