ACCORDING to the Bar Council’s Little Red Book about the police and citizen’s rights, a person is under arrest under the following circumstances:
the police says “yes” to the question (asked politely if possible), “Am I under arrest?”, or
does not allow you to leave or wants to take you to a police station, or
The Little Red Book derives its understanding of the rights of citizens and police action from nothing less than the Criminal Procedure Code.
What then does this mean about police action against Perak Speaker V Sivakumar? The video below aside, police held Sivakumar in a room in the state secretariat building for 90 minutes after they violently dragged him out of his chair. He was only allowed to leave the room after the state assembly was adjourned by hastily, and some might add illegally, installed Speaker Datuk S Ganesan from the Barisan Nasional (BN).
Video featuring Perak Speaker V Sivakumar being dragged away by police officers, courtesy of Malaysiakini
By legal definition then, Sivakumar was either unlawfully imprisoned or under arrest for those 90 minutes. Either way, Malaysians have just cause to be alarmed. If the police can so boldly and publicly act in such an unlawful manner against a speaker and an elected representative, we obviously have a serious problem with our police force. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones we should be alarmed by.
Not above the law
When, on the night of 7 May, the police arrested five legal aid lawyers who were only trying to represent the peaceful protesters who had been arrested at the Brickfields police station, both the Bar Council and the MCA expressed outrage. Indeed, the Bar Council is holding an extraordinary general meeting today, 15 May 2009, to protest and condemn such police action.
What, though, was Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein‘s response?
“If they think just because they are lawyers, they are immune to the law, then that is not so,” he said on 8 May when asked to respond to the Bar Council’s outrage that its members had been arrested for trying to do their job.
Indeed, this has been Hishammuddin’s refrain when asked to comment on police action that not only smacks of abuse of power but is also partisan in favour of the BN. For example, despite the heavy-handed police action in arresting scores of people outside the Perak state assembly building and the unlawful imprisonment of Sivakumar on 7 May, Hishammuddin said he was “thankful” that no “serious incidents” occurred in Perak that day.
“I am happy with the action taken,” he said, because, he argued, it averted “chaos on the streets which could threaten public safety.”
Hishammuddin (Pic courtesy of theSun)It could be that the new home minister is trying to obfuscate the matter in order to justify police action in the interest of the BN holding on to power. Or it could be that Hishammuddin really doesn’t know any better?
Either way, isn’t it problematic that we either have a minister who upholds police abuse of power or who is clueless? Or worse, who may be both?
As former Bar Council chairperson Yeo Yang Poh said in a message circulated on e-mail: “Many were arrested and detained just for advocating a view, denied access to lawyers, and then five lawyers who were trying to provide legal assistance to the detainees were themselves arrested. What’s next? Arrest doctors who try to give medical assistance to opponents of the government?”
Hiding the truth
According to a Malaysiakini report, Media Prima, believed to be linked to Umno, has instructed the four TV stations under its fold — TV3, ntv7, 8TV and tv9 — not to air footage of Sivakumar being forcibly removed from his chair so that Ganesan could take over.
Such censorship is of course rather futile in the age of affordable gadgets, YouTube and the internet. But that doesn’t change the fact that Media Prima’s action, if Malaysiakini‘s report is accurate, is about hiding the truth so that those who commit abuses will not be exposed.
In fact, it’s hardly different from the earlier decision to only allow 13 BN-controlled media access to the historic 7 May Perak state assembly meeting. Imagine what citizens would have been denied if that ruling hadn’t been challenged and then reversed so that all media could cover the chaos in the assembly chambers.
Twice in my life, I have seen a man beat up his woman partner in public. In both cases, it left me wondering how much more violence the man was capable of in private if he didn’t have qualms abusing his partner in front of others.
We need to ask this same question of our police, and by extension, the BN government. If the police have no qualms unlawfully detaining or arresting a citizen or lawyers, who should have access to their clients, in full public view, what else is it capable of behind doors? Beatings and torture that led to the kind of death A Kugan experienced in police detention?
(Pic by Mark Coggins / sxc.hu)
For sure, police arrogance and impunity don’t exist in a vacuum. Police abuse of power is made possible because the BN government, as evidenced by Hishammuddin’s justifications, allow for it to happen. Just as the decision by some media to censor what the police have done is also a form of collusion.
This then makes Hishammuddin’s statement about the 7 May state assembly sitting farcical beyond belief. Being thankful that “nothing serious” happened in Perak is like saying “nothing serious” happened to Kugan while in police detention. It’s like saying the police, acting on the BN’s instructions, saved the day in Perak.
Dire events occurred in Perak that day. Dire events continue to happen in Malaysia under the BN’s watch, whether in Perak or elsewhere every time dissent is violently repressed, and then when the repression is denied or justified. If citizens, and the media, allow these events to continue as if “nothing serious” is happening, we can be certain it will only get worse, not better.
Jacqueline Ann Surin subscribes to the Quaker‘s wisdom of bearing witness. She believes that it is only when citizens and the media are watchful of those in power that abuses can be prevented and abusers held accountable.