Jeswan Kaur| June 7, 2011
Is the BN government’s refusal to put the police force on a leash, a case of ‘you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours’
There is a Malay proverb, “harapkan pagar, pagar makan padi” which can be taken to mean that a person who is entrusted with something often ends up betraying that trust. In today’s time, this saying best defines the Malaysian police force.
Reneging on their responsibility as protectors, the cops by virtue of their own misgivings will have to clean up their act to redeem public faith and trust that has slipped off.
Going by the many reports of police brutality, the latest reported by FMT on May 26, 2011, there is no doubt left that the people are having a tough time counting on the cops, for the cops seem to be making news, but for the wrong reasons.
The bad news includes detaining people behind bars and whacking the daylights out of them, leaving them dead literally. Then there is the insensitivity and indifference shown by the police when it comes to handling complaints concerning violence against women, be it rape or domestic violence.
On the issue of domestic violence, a young woman, Pakaim Subramaniam, died in February this year, just five months into her marriage. Her father, M Subramaniam, alleged that she was the victim of domestic violence due to the severe injuries she had sustained. He said the police failed to investigate the case, which then led him seek help from Suhakam, the country’s human rights commission.
Meanwhile, the latest cop brutality reported by FMT involved a 20-year-old student, S Ganesan, who claimed that he was beaten up and verbally abused by the police after he knocked into a policeman’s motorcycle at a roadblock in Rembau, Negri Sembilan, in the early hours of the morning.
“The policeman kept beating me and called me ‘keling’. They also shouted at me, saying I should just die so that they can close the case,” Ganesan was quoted by FMT as recalling.
The youngster was then warned not to report the matter before he was bundled into an ambulance and despatched to the Tunku Jaafar Hospital.
Now, what should one make of such news when the men in uniform go back on their duties and abuse the trust the people have in them?
To think that the former inspector-general of police, Rahim Noor, unfortunately set the precedent when he beat up former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, to the extent of punching the latter in the eye, earning Anwar the “blue” eye bruise that paradoxically went on to become the symbol of his party, Keadilan.
With police notoriety fast becoming the norm than the exception, it is no longer acceptable that the government under Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak acts nonchalantly over the abuse the public suffers at the hands of the police.
Clearly, the need for a body to keep an eye on the cops and admonish them where need be has to be instituted. The federal government’s refusal to acknowledge the role of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is best translated as the government’s could-not-care-less attitude about how the people suffer at the hands of the police. Are the police the new “law”?
Refusing to create a monitoring body to ensure the cops remain within the boundaries of their duty has only put the federal government in a bad light. Citing reasons why the IPCMC is not necessary gives the people the message that the government is not willing to undertake any measure to upset the police force. But why?
Has the country’s police force become a law unto itself, doing as it pleases, sending the public the message that it has immunity courtesy of the “powers that be”?
When cops who beat up detainees are let free by the court, it marks a sad day for the justice system in this country. And it is even more appalling that the government that keeps brainwashing the “people first” chant to the people finds it unnecessary to intervene.
In 2005, a 634-page report by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Police Force, headed by a former judge, revealed that the police were brutal, inept and the most corrupt among the government departments. Between 1999 and 2003, there were 5,726 formal corruption complaints involving the police force and it was recommended that the police force be monitored by an independent watchdog.
Still, the BN government is adamant that there is no use for the IPCMC.
An Indian-based non-governmental organisation, Aastivaram Foundation, said between 2003 and 2007, there were 85 custodial deaths. This number excluded those who were shot dead.
“The commission is long overdue. Currently, the police themselves investigate cases of police abuse and I believe they tend to cover up such cases,” the foundation’s vice-president R Sanjeevan told FMT recently.
On June 18, 2008, a cop on duty at the Putra Heights (in Subang Jaya) police station raped a woman pillion rider after detaining her boyfriend at the police station for riding the motorbike without a licence. The 17-year-old girl gathered all her courage to take the perpetrator to court. And yes, this was not the first such case involving a policeman but something must be done soon to make sure it is never repeated.
If a policeman is unable to carry out his responsibilities with respect to the uniform he wears and to the people he is duty-bound to protect, then there is no reason left for his presence in the force.
Dare BN government leash the police?
Rape, deaths in cells, working with car-stealing syndicates and perhaps various other unlawful activities, the police force has today become a tainted profession, one which many would only venture into as the last resort.
If blame is to be assigned for the sad state of the police force, it rightfully goes to the BN government for, in its own way, “encouraging” the cops to carry on with their bad ways. Rahim became the thug of the day when he decided that bashing up a detainee was not a big deal. And the “trend” continues, with detainees suffering brutality at the hands of the police.
It is a different story for those detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA). They suffer a different kind of humiliation at the hands of the police, encompassing physical, mental and emotional tortures.
With so much wrongdoing taking place, the government is still in two minds about “leashing” the police force. Has this inability to decide, anything to do with the “you scratch my back, I scratch your back” syndrome infamously plaguing the government agencies?
When it comes to the deaths of detainees in police cells, this has been going on for so long that it begs the question, why is the government not disturbed by it? Or the government just does not care, to be precise.
Had the government under Najib cared, as he incessantly claims, the case of the police constable who beat up a 23-year-old suspected car thief, A Kugan while under police custody in 2009, and was let off the hook by the court, would have given the country’s leader sleepless nights. Instead, it is Kugan’s family who is left high and dry, after justice eluded them.
But then deaths at the hands of the cops is nothing new in Malaysia. If anything, it has become pandemic. Back in 1993, it was reported that teenage fisherman Manaf Mat died at the Alor Star General Hospital nine days after he was arrested for alleged possession of dadah. The police, however, refuted claims of negligence leading to Manaf’s death and passed the buck to the prison authorities.
In 1994, a 45-year-old detainee, Lim Thiam Hock. was found dead inside the Klang police station lock-up. Lim had defaulted on his supervision after serving sentence for dadah offences in 1990.
In 1995, the then attorney-general Mokhtar Abdullah ordered a judicial inquiry following dissatisfaction with the police’s failure to identify the death of an air-conditioned mechanic, Lee Quat Leong, while under detention. Lee was detained under the Emergency Ordinance 1969, in connection with the break-in of the Mayban Finance in Cheras.
Mokhtar made it clear that the police investigation cast serious and grave suspicion on certain officers over Lee’s death, which, according to the post-mortem, was due to internal bleeding. But city police chief Ismail Che Rus denied Lee’s death was due to internal bleeding.
In 1997, a 25-year-old man detained for suspected car and motorcycle thefts was found dead in a toilet at the Cheras police headquarters. He was believed to have died of strangulation as there were bruises on his throat.
In 1997, too, a second-hand car dealer R Shanmugam was found dead at the Kampung Tawas Police station lock-up, where he was detained for 66 days. The death certificate issued by the hospital authority stated he died of “hanging.” Suspecting foul play, Shanmugam’s father lodged a report at the Ipoh police station, claiming his son died due to injuries suffered while in police custody.
In 1999, a 20-year-old drug suspect was found dead at the Nilam Puri police station in Kota Baru, two hours after his arrest. Police were about to take him to the Kota Baru police headquarters when they found him dead inside the cell.
Deaths under police custody have yet to end. Meanwhile, the police force continues to end up with “bruises”, no thanks to the errant cops who continue to misuse the power in their hands.
Just how long more will the public be the recipients of such atrocities committed in police cells? Is violence the way sanctioned by the “powers that be”, allowing the police to trample the very law it is supposed to be a keeper of?
The Royal Malaysian Police is 204 years old and is smug about its motto of “Firm, Fair and Prudent” (Tegas, Adil and Berhemah). But looking at its “track record”, there is no doubt the police has failed to live up to its reason d’etre.
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