BY R. NADESWARAN
ON Friday, a nine-page statement from the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) was emailed to the media. It was no ordinary release as it outlined some serious shortcomings in our crime management system.
While previous cases of police brutality and custody deaths were pooh-poohed and brushed away, this time around, it was a comprehensive, detailed and analytical declaration on the death of one Syed Mohd Azlan Syed Mohamed Nur.
Investigations found attempts to get evidence by interrogating the 25-year-old resulted in 61 separate injuries on various parts of his body.
The police officers involved, the statement said, engaged in a “serious breach” of standard operating procedures on handling of detainees, material seizure, and the integrity of statements.
“There was an element of crime in the attacks involving common intent or abetment by police officers, including the arresting team, to use physical violence on the deceased to cause death or injury,” the statement added.
Read with the report by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), the EAIC statement is damning indeed.
According to Suhakam, out of the 242 persons who have died under police custody since 2000 to February 2014, only two deaths were attributed to the police.
“In Malaysia, the number of deaths in police custody is significantly high and this has become a matter of public concern and scrutiny,” said Suhakam in their 2014 report.
“While the police have the duty and responsibility to maintain peace and order, and to arrest any person who has broken the laws, there is also the duty and responsibility to protect the person detained from any harm whether inflicted by him or others.”
Former chief justice Tun Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah, who headed the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Police Reform and called for the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), said one of the causes of deaths in custody is the indifference towards the rule of law in the police force.
“In order to understand why we have deaths in police custody in the first place, we must look to the environment within the force itself. The current attitude within the force towards the rule of law is one of indifference, with a patent disregard for human rights.
“And in order to discuss culture, one must start from the fundamentals, the very building blocks of how a mindset is created,” he was quoted as saying in his keynote address at a forum titled “Rogue cops: workable solutions – Police Accountability in Malaysia” in Kuala Lumpur in May this year.
Admittedly, the police are always on the receiving end and often in court, accused and even witnesses in criminal trials claim they had been assaulted and therefore coerced into making confessions or statements. This is not unique to the force and in past instances; witnesses in corruption cases use the same ruse.
Syed Mohd Azlan’s death may have been yet another statistic in the records, but the EAIC investigation among others points out other flaws, including “intention to cause physical violence”.
The commission chaired by Dzaiddin 10 years ago had listed 125 recommendations, including the setting up of the IPCMC, to stamp out abuse of power by the police. However, this was met with fierce resistance by the police, and hence the EAIC, which is said to be a much watered-down version of the IPCMC, was set up as a substitute.
But the EAIC has moved above expectations with one of the harshest criticism of the police force. In view of these reports, the inevitable question is: Where do we go from here?
The EAIC has recommended that the Attorney-General’s Chambers to prosecute the officers involved for the crimes identified in the agency’s investigations.
And specifically, it states that action be taken under Section 302 and 325 of the Penal Code read with Section 34 of the Act. (Section 302 pertains to murder while Section 325 involves voluntarily causing grievous bodily harm; Section 34 deals with voluntarily causing hurt.)
Let it be categorically said that by and large, our police force is made up of credible officers who go by the book and brook no nonsense. The ball is now at the feet of the attorney-general. Will he take up the cudgels on behalf of the rakyat to identify and punish a tiny proportion of our policemen who give a bad name to the entire force?
R. Nadeswaran has previously worked and co-operated with many police officers whom he believed would have never raised a finger against anyone.