The PM's refusal to acknowledge the role of the IPCMC speaks volumes of the government's indifference to the sufferings endured by the rakyat at the hands of the police.
The 204-year-old Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) has made news for so many wrong reasons: behaving in a trigger-happy manner, forcing a woman to do squats in the nude, raping a teenage girl inside a police station, whacking detainees which have led to their deaths, threatening and intimidating the layman, working with car-theft syndicates and refusing to help Sarawak’s Penan women and girls who for many years have been crying for help against the rapes suffered at the hands of timber loggers.
Now, the latest story about the abuse of power by the police comes from Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) which said its detained activists were asked, among others, to undress in the presence of male police officers.
Thirty-six of its activists were detained last month while carrying out their “Udahlah Bersaralah” (Enough already, Retire Now) campaign in Perak, to remind Malaysians of the pitfalls of returning Barisan Nasional to power in the 13th general election.
Complaints of sexual misconduct by police were made by detainees in Kepala Batas, Penang and Ipoh, respectively, and PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvan said a police officer told them they needed six months to investigate the report.
Not only does the six-long-month period sounds ridiculous, it is equally befuddling to note that the police would be investigating their own officers. What assurance is there that the police would act in a fair and just manner?
It is precisely due to such concerns that the implementation of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is no longer an option for the federal government headed by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.
Putting it sarcastically, IPCMC is so desperately needed to save the people from being “bullied” by the police. The PDRM has, through its own doing, earned a besmirched image, hardly showing any interest in improving for the better and living up to its responsibility as a professional and law abiding force.
Yet, the Barisan Nasional-led government dares say establishing such a commission is not necessary!
Doors remain shut
Earlier in the year, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein confirmed that the door was still shut to IPCMC and insisted that the commission would not help resolve police abuse cases.
Defending his decision, Hishammuddin said “political will” to transform the police force was more crucial.
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. Yet, the federal government has no faith in the role of the IPCMC. Why?
Had Najib walked his talk of “people first”, he would have taken the extra mile to ensure the police constable who beat up a 23-year-old suspected car thief, A Kugan, while under police custody in 2009, be taken to task. Instead, the cop was declared a free man by the court, leaving the deceased’s family with sleepless nights after justice eluded them.
Is that the best a people’s leader can do? Or is that how a leader like Najib reflects his concern, ditching the rakyat when they need him most?
According to a non-governmental organisation, Astivaaram Foundation, 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 once told FMT.
Can the rakyat rely on the police?
On May 26 this year, FMT highlighted the case of police brutality suffered by 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,” said Ganesan.
The youngster was then warned not to report the matter before he was bundled into an ambulance and despatched to the Tunku Jaafar Hospital.
The police also seemed least perturbed when in February this year, a domestic violence victim, Pakaim Subramaniam, was found dead after a mere month of married life.
Pakaim’s father, M Subramaniam, alleged his daughter 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.
And during the July 9, 2011, “Walk for Democracy” rally organised by election watchdog Bersih 2.0, the police unleashed the devil in them when they started spraying rally supporters with water cannons and tear gas and even hitting some of the participants.
With police notoriety having become the norm rather than the exception, the need for a body to keep an eye on the cops and admonish them when necessary has to be instituted.
The federal government’s refusal to acknowledge the role of the IPCMC speaks volumes of its indifference towards the sufferings endured by the rakyat at the hands of the police.
The question the people keep asking, and which Najib has to answer, is, “can we rely on the police?”
Najib doesn’t relate to rakyat
Veteran DAP chief Lim Kit Siang had earlier in the year said Hishammuddin’s insistence that the IPCMC is not necessary was the strongest proof of the continuing lack of political will to eradicate police abuses and corruption.
“It was Hishammuddin who led the opposition to the establishment of the IPCMC when it was proposed by the Dzaiddin Royal Police Commission five years ago.
“The IPCMC was the most important of its 125 recommendations to create an efficient, incorruptible, professional and world-class police force,” Lim had said.
Lim pointed out that the Dzaiddin Royal Police Commission had even accompanied its recommendation with an enclosed draft legislation which detailed the IPCMC’s powers of investigation and inquiry to help fight corruption in the force and to investigate public complaints.
However, Umno Youth in an immediate reaction shot down the recommendation over concerns that the IPCMC would be turned into an avenue by certain quarters to expose the weaknesses in the country’s administration.
Two months after the recommendation, the Bar Council, in supporting the commission, launched a signature campaign which was handed over to then Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
In December 2007, Parliament unveiled the Special Complaints Commission (SCC) in place of the IPCMC, which was aimed at addressing misconduct by all enforcement agencies.
However, the SCC was denounced by Amnesty International Malaysia as a poor substitute that lacked independence and failed to address the need for a mechanism that demanded police accountability for their actions.
“Hishammuddin even went against Abdullah who had publicly committed himself to accept and implement the IPCMC recommendation.
“The combined opposition of Umno and the police forced Abdullah to backtrack and finally scuttle the IPCMC proposal,” Lim had said.
In June 2009, the BN government also rejected the proposal on the basis that its powers were “too broad and unconstitutional”.
To the DAP chief, the recent spate of high-profile police abuse cases and custodial deaths had once again highlighted the need for an IPCMC to address these cases with seriousness, authority, independence, impartiality and professionalism.
“With Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s ‘People First, Performance Now’ slogan, Hishammuddin should table a formal proposal to ask the Cabinet to revisit the IPCMC recommendation instead of continuing to spearhead its opposition,” he said.
Who does PDRM really serve – the rakyat or Najib?
As for Najib, just how long more does he and cousin Hishammuddin intend to allow the PDRM to manhandle, abuse and intimidate the rakyat, in the process giving the few good cops out there a bad name as well?
Jeswan Kaur is a freelance journalist and a FMT columnist.