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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stop police's power abuse and human rights must be protected

(Sin Chew Daily 22/10/2007)

“The behaviour of the defendants is inhumane, cruel and despicable, as the plaintiff (Abdul Malek Hussin) was not just arrested and detained unlawfully for 57 days but was also subjected to a vile assault, unspeakable humiliation, and prolonged physical and mental ill-treatment... The practice of torture of any kind is to be detested. The despicable conduct of the then Inspector General of Police, Tan Sri Rahim Noor, was shameful and a disgrace. He had shown an extremely bad example to the thousands of men under his charge.” Justice Hishamudin Mohd Yunus in his judgement 18 Oct 2007 Abdul Malek Hussin vs (Special Branch police officer ASP) Borhan Bin Hj Daud, the Inspector General of Police, and the Government of Malaysia.

Justice Hishamudin's decision to award RM2.5 million (US$740,000) in damages to the former Internal Security Act detainee is indeed a victory for judiciary. It shows the court has started to put right the abuse of power by the executive branch of the government. Detainees who had suffered under abouse s by the police can now seek justice.

The experience of the plaintiff, Abdul Malek reflected on the seriousness of the power abuse problem in police department. In 2005, a shocking “nude squat” video clip was shown to the public. The Malay lady later filed a lawsuit against the Malaysian government seeking compensation of RM250,000. The court has yet to decide on the case.

After the video clip was exposed, the government set up an independent panel to investigate the case. As the nude squatting procedurte (during police custody) has violated her human rights, the panel suggested the abolition of such police practices.
"These human rights abuses happened not only because the police department has not follow the procedures for detention and abuses their power, but the delay in hearing such court cases itself is a violation of the detainees’ human rights."
However, in September 2007, four police officers were found assaulting an Indonesian karate referee. It had nearly triggered a diplomatic crisis. The case was finally solved after Malaysia apologised. Nevertheless, rumours of ill-treatment by the police are still surfacing.

Although the government had taken disciplinary action against the police officers concerned, some still carry on their old ways and are brazenly involved in abuse of power and fraud. Therefore, complaints against the police are non-stop, and the victims could only seek justice through the judiciary.

When a police officer is involved in corruption or abuses his power, he would be given a verbal reprimand by his superiors. But some chose to ignore such warnings. They continue to abuse their power. The discipline and the reputation of the police department is thus eroded a little by little. This shows that verbal reprimand, demotion and suspension are insufficient as deterrents. Once the court has made a ruling on such cases of abuse of power, those involved should be investigated and charged in court.

Abdul Malek, the nude squat victim and others who have had their human rights must be given redress. When a person is detained for crime investigation, it does not mean he is no longer protected by law and the police can do whatever they want. The Federal Constitution guarantees basic protection to the detainees, including meeting with lawyers, family visits, medical treatment, adequate food supply and the like. As a law enforcement unit, the police department must have this knowledge and cannot violate the Constitution.

According to investigation reports by some human rights organisations, our human rights record has not made much progress. These human rights abuses happened not only because the police department has not follow the procedures for detention and abuses their power, but the delay in hearing such court cases itself is a violation of the detainees’ human rights.

Human rights in Parliament is always a concern of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM). SUHAKAM will start their investigations after they have received complaints. However, their previous recommendations have fallen on deaf ears of the police and the government.

As a human rights gatekeeper, SUHAKAM should enhance its power by getting more enforcement power to improve Malaysia's human rights and national image.

As for the police's power abuse, the best solution is to set up monitoring bodies, such as Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission. However, out of the 125 recommendations by Royal Commission on Royal Malaysian Police, only 101 recommendations have been accepted. Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission is amongst the 24 rejected recommendations.

I believe more complaints on police's power abuse will be forthcoming after Malek's court victory. The government must pay more attention on the establishment of an independent panel. It is with such an external watchdog that we can expect the police force to be efficient, professional and to be mindful of protecting human rights. (By CHONG LIP TECK)


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