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Wrong to retaliate against those who highlight allegations of police torture

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Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is again appalled by the Malaysian government’s response to allegations of torture by the police when human rights defenders or those who highlight these alleged wrongs are targeted, rather than focusing on investigating the torture allegation and prosecuting guilty officers.

Malaysian law still does not clearly criminalise torture by police or other enforcement officers, an offence that should carry a deterrent sentence. The guilty must be immediately removed from the police force to improve public perception.

Chilli Powder & Thinner, and targeting of human rights defenders

After an animated short video entitled Chilli Powder and Thinner, allegedly based on an experience of police torture was screened on 2 July 2021, the police called in human rights defender Anna Har and cartoonist Amin Landak to be investigated under Section 500 of the Penal Code for defamation, Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for statements that could cause public alarm and distress, and Section 233(1)(a) of the Communications and Multimedia Act for improper use of network facilities.

The offices of Freedom Film Network and the cartoonist’s house were raided, and computers and other items were apparently confiscated. Then, on 6 July, four other human rights defenders, namely Kua Kia Soong, Sevan Doraisamy, Mohammad Alshatri and Sharon Wah were called by the police for investigation.

What is disturbing is that the alleged torture incident itself and the police officers involved in that torture seem to have not yet been investigated, when that should have been the priority.

The police and government are in denial if they believe all their officers never torture anyone, a fact that was proven following Anwar Ibrahim’s black eye incident, and the findings of the many inquiries by the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) and the Malaysian human rights commission, Suhakam. Most police officers may follow the law, and as such it is crucial to protect the image of our police; those officers who torture or are involved in crimes ought to be speedily punished in accordance with the law and weeded out of the force.

If tortured, do not point fingers at police?

The current system and state of affairs does not deter the use of torture by the police or other enforcement officers, even when it results in death. The targeting of those who highlight torture by the police seems to provide a perception that we cannot or should not highlight police wrongdoings.

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Malaysia has a poor history of criminal prosecution and convictions of officers who torture. Many a time, the government resorts to a non-transparent internal disciplinary mechanisms which may simply retain the perpetrator within government service. The identity of the guilty and the punishment rendered is little known, and this discourages victims and those who know from highlighting torture by the police and government personnel. This also does not deter other police officers from doing similar wrongs.

Many lawyers are aware of torture of suspects, but sadly as they are bound by professional obligations, cannot do much, unless their client choose to speak up or report the torture. Others are aware of it. Suhakam and the EAIC have also, after inquiry, concluded that torture does happen.

In the death in police custody case of Syed Mohd Azlan, even the EAIC inquiry found guilt on the part of the police: “the use of physical violence by police during arrest and questioning was the cause of Syed Mohd Azlan Syed Mohamed Nur’s 2014 death in custody… ‘investigations found attempts to obscure evidence from the 25-year-old’s interrogation’.”

Does the government want us to suffer silently?

Persons who are tortured by police fear highlighting the crimes of police officers for fear of possible repercussions by the police and the government. More so, if they suffered torture of a more embarrassing nature, including sexual at times, they simply elect not to report for fear of long-term public perception targeted against victims or shame.

What happens after this “Chilli Powder and Thinner” video, shows a bad example of a government going after people that bravely bring to light these alleged incidents of torture, rather than investigating the torture and prosecuting the police officers responsible for such crimes.

End retaliation against those who highlight police wrongdoings

One has the right to make a police report alleging torture or wrongdoing by the police, but the problem is proving the crime, as it is difficult to secure evidence from other officers who may have witnessed the crime.

Further, when one reports police torture, there is the risk or threat of a retaliatory report by the authorities, that they will make a report that you have made a false report or provided false information, which are offences which carry prison sentences.

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Abolish false report or information and criminal defamation offences action against those who report or highlight torture and other wrongdoings by the police or government employees. All allegations need to be thoroughly investigated and acted on, preferably by independent officers/bodies.

Continuous tamper-proof evidence mandatory

Continuous tamper-proof evidence must be made available to verify the truth of torture and other wrongdoings by police and enforcement officers.

Evidence of torture and other abuses on suspects and others would have been so easy if there were CCTV recordings. There must be CCTV recordings at all places of the police station and places of investigation, which should be immediately available to suspects arrested, investigated and detained, and their lawyers. Bodycams and cameras in police vehicles will ensure that there will be a recording from the point of arrest itself. Such CCTV or recordings will certainly encourage police and other enforcement authorities to follow the law – and not resort to torture, threats and other wrongdoings.

In Hong Kong, for over three decades, video recordings from the point of arrest, time spent in police custody, even during investigations, are made. These recordings are available to suspects and their lawyers upon request. These recordings can prove that all that the police did was in accordance with the law, and there was no torture or other abuses of rights that happen during police custody. Witnesses can be compromised, but video recordings are good evidence.

In November 2020, in a parliamentary written reply, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin said government would implement the proposal made during the Pakatan Harapan administration on the use of bodycams by police officers with the hope that it would prevent the accusation and imputation brought against security personnel while performing their duties. He said that the government was concerned about the integrity level of members of the police force (Malaysiakini, 19 November 2020).

Criminalise police torture and abuses

There is a need for specific offences that criminalise torture and corruption by police and other law enforcement officers, which must carry deterrent sentences, including dismissal. Such offences must be dealt with by the courts, and no more through ‘secret’ internal disciplinary mechanisms.

Malaysians deserve to know the identity of those found guilty of torture, corruption and other crimes that violate human rights. Victims, too, deserve to be accorded adequate compensation.

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The continued presence of ‘criminals’ in the police or enforcement bodies is not good for the image of law enforcement agencies.

Further, there must not be retaliation against those who courageously highlight allegations of torture, corruption and other abuses by the police or other law enforcement bodies.

Proposed IPCMC, Suhakam and EAIC must be independent with prosecutorial powers

Suhakam and the EAIC have carried out inquiries on police torture and wrongdoings, but alas it stops there without further investigation or prosecution of the alleged wrongdoers, making these bodies nothing but ‘toothless tigers’. One remedy is to ensure that such institutions have prosecutorial powers – the power to charge persons in court.

Even royal commissions of inquiry are useless if the government of the day ignores its findings and recommendations and does nothing after that. The situation is made worse when inquiry findings are not even made public. On 5 July, Suhakam once again called on the government to release the report and findings of the royal commission of inquiry’s investigation into the human trafficking camps and graves in Wang Kelian.

Malaysia needs a real independent police complaints and misconduct commission (IPCMC) with prosecutorial powers.

We need to remember that the reason for the IPCMC is that the public perception of existing internal mechanisms, the police and even the MACC as having failed to effectively deal with corruption, torture and other abuse of powers, especially within the police force.

Likewise, Suhakam and the EAIC also need to be given greater independence and prosecutorial powers. The EAIC is certainly still needed as it currently deals with every other law enforcement and administration of justice departments under the various ministries.

  • Madpet calls for Malaysia to encourage the highlighting of torture and other abuses committed by the police, with a guaranteed protection from retaliation against human rights defenders and those who report or highlight such allegations and incidents
  • Madpet also calls for the immediate discontinuation of targeting or harassment of all those involved in the video Chilli Powder and Thinner
  • Madpet calls for the creation of a specific offence of torture, with a more deterrent penalty when the perpetrators of the torture are police officers or other law enforcers.

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture

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