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Time: Policing the Police
By Simon Elegant

12/4/2001 2:02 am Thu

[Pada 2/10/1998, polis telah menembak mati (tepat pada dahi) seorang wanita yang sedang mengandung 8 bulan dalam satu operasi siasatan penculikkan anak seorang pemimpin politik tempatan. Testimoni Saraswathy serta bukti forensik yang ngeri keadaan mangsa telah mengelarkan lagi imej polis yang sudah jijik sejak berkonspirasi dengan pemimpin atasan negara untuk melebam dan memusnahkan Anwar. Inilah spesis polis yang sama yang masih tidak mesra-mesra sehingga menelanjangkan Nora.

Kerajaan BN asyik mempertahankan polis di mana Mahathir sendiri memberi amaran kerajaan akan bertindak ofensif dan lebih memeranjatkan untuk 'menjaga keamanan'. Dollah Badawi sekadar mengaku polis mempunyai masalah PR (hubungan awam) sahaja.

SUHAKAM akan membentangkan lapuran mengenai keganasan polis pada penghujung April ini tetapi rakyat begitu sangsi itu dapat melakukan apa-apa perubahan yang diharapkan.

Bagi kita polis cuma menjaga keamanan pemimpin Umno sahaja bukannya keamanan rakyat semua. Jika polis betul-betul adil, berhemah dan professional banyak masalah telah selesai dan polis dapat 'goyang kaki' sahaja. Keadilan di dalam negara kini makin sukar lagi kerana pengarah BPR yang baru pun seorang bekas anggota polis juga.

Time Magazine
Issue April 16, 2001

Policing the Police

Malaysia's controversial cops face criticism and potential censure for repeated brutalities


Pic: Police officers clash with a supporter of ex-Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim.

It was chilling testimony. One minute, Saraswathy Govindasamy was chatting outside her front door with her eight-month pregnant niece and neighbor, Selvamalar Nadarajah. The next, her niece and four others had been shot dead by a police SWAT team.

"I rushed out when I heard the gunshots," Saraswathy, a 44-year-old housewife told a Kuala Lumpur court in early March. She claims she tried to alert police that a pregnant woman was inside the house they had surrounded. "Do you want to die? Go back inside," a policeman shouted, according to Saraswathy. "About two hours later a police truck arrived. They brought out five bodies from the house and into the waiting truck." One of the bodies was Selvamalar's.

The dead woman's two children, Alameloo Mangai, 11, and her sister Keerthana, 8, are suing the government and police for their mother's death. Police officers responsible for the Oct. 2, 1998, raid, which was part of an investigation into the kidnapping of a prominent politician's son, have told the court they had reason to believe the boy was in the house and acted in self-defense after shots were fired from inside. During the earlier inquiry into the deaths, police claimed they had found two guns in the house.

The graphic testimony given so far in the ongoing trial - including detailed forensic descriptions of how Selvamalar was shot in the head and the condition of her unborn child - comes at an unwelcome time for Malaysia's troubled police force. The case revives longstanding complaints by human rights advocates that the nation's law enforcement officers are trigger happy, practicing what human rights group Hakam and others describe as an "unofficial shoot-to-kill policy." (Malaysia's inspector general of police wasn't available to be interviewed for this story.)

The country's fledgling Human Rights Commission has just concluded a public inquiry into allegations of police misconduct last November at an anti-government demonstration. During the inquiry, commissioners heard lengthy reports of misconduct - unprovoked violence, unnecessarily long detention of arrested protestors and deliberate humiliation of prisoners. One woman gave evidence that she was forced to strip naked and subjected to a body cavity search.

The commission is also considering launching an inquiry into allegations that police failed to intervene in recent ethnic clashes between Malay and Indian squatters that left six dead and 48 severely wounded. Human Rights Commissioner Anuar Zainal Abidin is studying a 108-page report submitted by an ad hoc group - the Police Watch and Human Rights Committee - that lodges a formal complaint against high-ranking officers alleging no protection was given to ethnic Indians during the riots.

The "general public perception of the police has been very severely dented," says Sulaiman Abdullah, a prominent lawyer. The current controversies are particularly troubling for many Malaysians, Sulaiman adds, in the wake of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's imprisonment and conviction on charges of corruption and s###my. After Anwar was severely beaten on the night of his arrest in September 1998, an internal police inquiry failed to identify the culprit. It took a Royal Commission of Inquiry to determine that then-police chief Rahim Noor had administered the beating. (In a subsequent trial, Rahim was found guilty of the charge and he is appealing a two-month prison sentence.) Anwar argued that his convictions were the result of a conspiracy orchestrated by the police at the behest of senior government figures.

The string of controversies are bound to "affect the perception of the people about the police force," says Saravanan Murugan, a Senator in Malaysia's appointed upper house and a senior member of the Malaysian Indian Congress, the Indian component of the country's ruling coalition. "The people have a right to be concerned."

The government has staunchly defended police conduct, although Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi - who is also Home Minister and responsible for supervising the force - has acknowledged that the police have a p.r. problem. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has gone on the offensive. In parliament last week, he warned that his government was willing to break with "so-called international norms" to preserve peace.

The Human Rights Commission is due to present its official report for 2000 to parliament by the end of April. Its recommendations - and the government's response - are a litmus test for human rights in Malaysia, activists say. Anuar is cautious when addressing the charge by opposition politicians that police are often a willing tool to further the government's political ends. "I don't know about that. We'll tackle the simpler issues first," he says. "When we have found out where we can act, then we'll tackle the more difficult ones." Even for someone claiming to be "very optimistic" about the role the commission can play in ensuring police accountability, that could be a lot more than just difficult.

With reporting by Mageswary Ramakrishnan/Kuala Lumpur