Some years back, during a discussion organised by the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) I had a tiff with some high-ranking police officers present there. I was of the opinion that police investigation was instruction-oriented because in similar situations, police can take two very different actions. It all boils down to what instruction they receive from their superiors. The Police officers at the meeting were trying to impress me by saying that they are investigation orientated and do what the law allows them to do. But one can’t blame them because they are duty bound to follow instructions from above as required from them. Of course retired police personnel may speak more truthfully about the real situation.
I was amused when some people welcomed the setting up of the Criminal Investigation Unit (CIU) on Deaths in Custody (DIC) as some light at the end of tunnel or a good start. These people ridiculed human rights activists who did not share their views on this subject. Everyone familiar with activism work and the history of the IPCMC could easily figure out what Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin was up to and what he is not really committed too.
Who polices the police?
This suggestion by Hamzah is not earth-shaking. Police have previously set up similar units and have formed task forces before to deal with some cases. It is also currently our normal practice to ask another police district to investigate or to seek Bukit Aman or IPK to investigate a crime when certain police personnel are implicated or seen to be biased. This practice is not just confined to DIC cases.
In all my police powers training workshops, I emphasise that people should write this at the end of their police report, “ Saya mahu siasatan dilakukan oleh pihak polis berkecuali dan bebas atau pihak Polis dari IPD lain”. (I want investigations to be conducted impartially and fairly or by another police district) This is the least we can do until such a time arrives when we really have alternatives or a more professional police force.
Anyway there has never been a concerted effort by NGOs and CSOs calling for the setting up of this CUI. I am merely stating this here because no one should take credit for something when there was no real campaign work done on it. This is in comparison with other reforms called by civil society like setting up IPCMC, coroner court, reforms on lockup conditions, public assemblies, SOP etc.
There are many examples that make clear why the police cannot investigate themselves. The most famous example is when Anwar Ibrahim was punched in the face while he was tied and blindfolded at Bukit Aman. Yet, the AG office has to keep asking the police to reinvestigate the black eye incident because no matter how many police people investigated, the truth never came out until the independent royal commission was set up.
A “Special In-house Task Force” cannot beindependent
Let me give two other examples which I am familiar with. When Francis Udayappan died in police custody in 2004, activists and lawyers then called for investigations to be taken over by IPK (Ibupejabat Polis Kontinjen) and Bukit Aman. They could not trust the Brickfields Police because of the trust deficit.
Subsequently a team from IPK KL took over the investigation. Nevertheless the lawyers handling the case were not happy with the investigation and the same question of police being impartial kept being raised. Therefore it is very unlikely that the family of the deceased in DIC cases will have confidence in police investigations even under a new special in-house unit. Unless we have a credible and professional police force, perhaps people may have trust but we are very far from that.
Another incident was when lawyer G Balasunderam, a lawyer for the marhaen and common people was murdered on 16 November 2010. It did not take long to dawn on us that someone had planned in detail and paid hitmen to execute the murder. There were very strong rumours and suspicions on who were the people involved. It involved a family with close connections with the police top ranks. PSM pushed hard along with the Bar Council for a proper investigation. In fact a special task force from Bukit Aman took over the investigation.
They made some arrests and in fact had cracked open the case. Suddenly this Bukit Aman task force was abruptly told to stop their investigation when they were so close to completing it. One of the officers was very frustrated and told us anonymously that the case has been taken off their hands and passed to someone else. These good cops who did a lot of good work in breaking open this case were so frustrated and told PSM to keep pursuing the truth. However, after that we were faced with the “blue wall” and could not get anything else out.
These are examples where special police units were set up for high profile cases. The question is: can they be really independent or do they still take orders from upstairs? If you look at the police pledge taken by each policeman – they are to be loyal to the country as well as to their superiors and rank and file.
Now imagine, can a unit set up by Bukit Aman be able to investigate the disappearances of pastor Koh and Amri independently? Or 1MDB mismanagement or even the allegation raised by the former IGP on the cartel in the force working with criminals?
A disabled man arrested for attempting suicide
In a recent case, let me highlight our experiences asking the Selangor State Police Contigent to take over investigation of a district under its jurisdiction.
Very recently on 5 November 2021, SUARAM and PSM wrote a letter to the Selangor CPO and cc’d a copy to Bukit Aman. We wanted them to take over an investigation from Kuala Kubu baru (KKB) Police district because there was an allegation by the victim who is an OKU that his attacker had bribed the police to cover up his case.
In this case, the victim, who has only one leg was attacked by two men in early October this year. He lodged a police report. The perpetrator then confronted the victim again displaying and stating that he had made a payment of RM 5k to the Investigation officer (IO) for the case. The attacker also threatened him that nothing can be done to him because he has money. He further threatened the victim that one of his underlings would decapitate him.
On the next day, around 3.30am, three people introducing themselves as police knocked on his door. Once he opened his door, they attacked him, they removed his artificial leg, assaulted him and told him to withdraw his police report, failing which they would harm his family members. There were around three of them and they were all wearing face masks.
That same morning at around 7.30am, he attempted suicide by talking some poison bought from a shop and he sent a voice note to his brother-in-law and a friend asking them to take care of his family and that he cannot do much. But he was very lucky, his friend managed to come and save him. He was sent to Tanjung Malim hospital and then later transferred to the Slim River Hospital. He was discharged from the hospital on the 9th October and later he fled from his hometown because he feared that he would be attacked.
After some time in hiding, he contacted us and I met him and his family at the PSM office on 27 October 2021. After listening to him, we thought the best way is to write a Statutory Declaration (SD) and get another police department to take over the investigation.
After we sent the letter to IPK and Bukit Aman on 5 November 2021, we thought it was save for him to go back. We were wrong because on November 11, nine policemen led by that same IO came to arrest the disabled person. Imagine! Nine policemen came to arrest a man with one leg! They wanted to break open his lock. His offence was that he was to be arrested for attempted suicide under section 309. This was the same law which recently the AG and the Home Minister wanted to decriminalise.
He was then put in police lockup overnight and taken to the KKB court the next day in a wheelchair and later because of lots of pressure from us, they released him with a police bail but then they rearrested him under section 60. Whoever commits an affray shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand ringgit or with both
Now with actions like that, when he have lost hope at the district level and yet till today, the case has yet to be handled by another police district as requested by us. What does this say about the credibility of the police?
Let us not be naïve when we are dealing with these issues. The police are an instrument of the ruling state to be in power. There is no way that they will compromise their control of the police or allow the police to be independent. On the other hand, the government of the day needs the police and that is why we get a watered down IPCC – the police version. So there are orders always coming from above. Now from time to time there are some cosmetic changes to appease the public.
The fight for an IPCMC is one of those huge battles. It is the same way we fought the ISA only to see it replaced with SOSMA. It is only when the power of the people is very strong can real change happen. The fight goes on.
Parti Sosialis Malaysia