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‘No mercy on those who deal out street justice’

 | January 22, 2017

A criminologist says maximum punishments are the best deterrent.


PETALING JAYA: A criminologist has urged the courts to impose the maximum penalties on those found guilty of dealing out street justice.

P Sundramoorthy, an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia and a member of the Research Team on Crime and Policing, said maximum punishments would be the best deterrent.

He was commenting on last Saturday’s incident in Bukit Antarabangsa, in which a lorry driver was attacked by a group of men after he backed into a car. The incident was recorded on video and uploaded to the internet. The two-minute clip has since gone viral on social media.

“If the perpetrators are found guilty based on all evidence, it is absolutely crucial that they are not slapped with just some token fine or minimal jail sentence,” Sundramoorthy told FMT.

“Even if the victim was not seriously hurt, this kind of act should not be condoned. Therefore, whatever maximum punishment allowed by law must be given.”

He pointed out that the criminal justice system allowed no one, not even the police, to use physical violence on anyone except in self-defence. “That’s why when things like police brutality take place, police can be charged with assault.”

He said he was sure that the police had already bagged the Bukit Antarabangsa case because eyewitnesses were available, but he called for consideration of factors that might be pertinent in preventing future incidents of people resorting to street justice.

“The bystanders in the case included security guards in uniform,” he said. “Were they trained well enough to call the police? At times, when there’s a group assaulting someone, we cannot expect them to intervene. Intervening may mean escalating the situation.”

He also said the original uploaders of videos showing such assaults should send the information to the police immediately.

“Time is always a factor when it comes to investigating cases, especially when it comes to detecting and arresting offenders as well as collecting evidence, like corroborating statements from witnesses. As witnesses, our memory can fail us after some time has passed.”

Transparency International-Malaysia president Akhbar Satar agreed with Sundramoorthy, saying members of the public must help ensure respect for the justice system and the protection of their communities. He said people could do this by reporting such incidents to the authorities.

He also agreed that those found guilty of handing out street justice should be severely dealt with.

“There must be stern action by the police,” he said, “and judges must ensure that the maximum penalties are imposed.”

A failure to do this could result in copycat crimes, he added. “Criminals can be inspired by crimes reported in the media. They may imitate a crime if there is no deterrence from the authorities.”

Yesterday, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar noted that the parties in Saturday’s incident had agreed to settle the matter amicably, but he said the police would not let the attackers go scot free because “the country has laws to protect the innocent.”

He told the attackers to surrender or else the police would go to their homes and drag them out.

The video clip shows five people repeatedly kicking the head and upper torso of the lorry driver, who had backed into a Mercedes-Benz said to belong to a man with a “datuk” title.

Khalid said the datuk himself was not involved in the attack.

R Paneir Selvam, chairman of the Association of Legal and Policy Researchers, also spoke to FMT about the incident. He said the police must be seen as a force against perpetrators of violence, regardless of their status in society.

“If you want to maintain a system and you want people to respect the law, then anyone, regardless of position or influence, must be punished if he is found to have committed an offence,” he said.

He claimed police had, over the years, been seen to be less stringent against those with power or influence and this had made certain individuals believe they were above the law.

He welcomed Khalid’s statement about going after the culprits even though the lorry driver had agreed to an amicable settlement.

“Civil matters can be settled out of court, but not crimes like this,” he said.

Sundramoorthy agreed, saying the claim that the matter had been settled did not mean it had been truly resolved.

“The victim may have agreed under threat,” he said. “Let the police take the necessary action by thoroughly investigating this case and then the public prosecutor can determine the charges.”

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