The continuing descent of the PDRM into lawlessness has been graphically demonstrated by the 25 October beating and abduction of K. Selvach Santhiran by men in plainclothes claiming to be police personnel who did not properly identify themselves. Selvach was one of the key witnesses who testified against the police in the recently concluded R.Gunasegaran death in police custody inquest.
On the very day the verdict was delivered in the inquest, the police moved against Selvach and came to his home to arrest him. When Selvach’s children asked the police why their father was being dragged away, the police answered by beating Selvach in front of his own children. In a twisted perversion of conjugal love, the police tried to make Selvach’s wife S.Saraswathy kiss him before beating him up in front of her.
Selvach, who did his duty as an upright citizen by telling the truth at the R.Gunasegaran death in police custody inquest, is now being held at an unknown location with no access to his family or lawyers despite several efforts to meet him or ascertain his whereabouts.
It is believed that he is being detained without trial under the draconian Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 or the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985 that allow the police to detain a person for 60 days with no recourse to judicial safeguard and thereafter 2 years’ detention on the order of the Home Minister.
Whilst we understand that the police have an important and onerous job to prevent and combat crime, the police must understand that the wide powers of arrest and detention cannot be abused and used arbitrarily. As a professional police force, they should be guided by the law and legal processes in the country and not act with impunity and complete disregard for constitutional and judicial safeguards.
This is unfortunately symptomatic of the police’s inability to act professionally as a police force that can work within a modern criminal justice system and not resort to preventive measures that do not require any real police work and diligence. The police should instead strive to be a modern and professional force that conform to international standards and best practices and not regress to wrongful practices that have caused the public to lose so much confidence with the police force.
The aggressive and unlawful response of the police is a reflection of the general arrogance and lack of respect for the Federal Constitution, the rule of law and other legal procedures. This is not an isolated incident but a continuation of a long standing series of acts by the police that showed their contempt for the rights of the people that have resulted in gross abuse of police powers leading to brutality, torture, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention, shooting, custodial violence and death.
The arrest and detention of Selvach is gravely aggravated by the fact that he was arrested on the same day – after the outrageous and scandalous “open verdict” delivered by Coroner Siti Shakirah Mohtarudin in the R.Gunasegaran death in police custody inquest. Selvach was one of three persons who were in police custody with R.Gunasegaran and they have consistently identified Lance Corporal Mohd Faizal as having physically assaulted the deceased. They did so despite threats to their safety by the police and despite the inducement that their cooperation would secure their immediate release.
It cannot be a mere coincidence that Selvach was arrested so soon and further more he was detained under unspecified accusations under draconian provisions that allow the police to detain a suspect without trial for up to two years. It goes without saying that whistleblowers should be protected by the administration of law rather than punished by law enforcement officers. This is a blatant abuse of police power and a serious criminal act that can be prosecuted under the Penal Code and may further be subjected to contempt of court proceedings. Further, these actions point to police retaliation and clearly intended to intimidate those who speak up against injustices or wrongdoings perpetrated by members of the police force.
Uncivilised and unjust laws like the DDA and EO have no place in a modern and democratic state like Malaysia. These oppressive laws and methods violate the constitutional and human rights of the people and are contemptuous of the judicial authority and the legal process. The Malaysian Bar and civil society have forcefully and repeatedly called for the repeal of all preventive detention laws and for such arbitrary arrests and re-arrests to cease.
The police cannot be permitted to continue to operate in an environment of impunity but as this tragic episode has explicitly illustrated, the police has just sent a strong message that they can act as they please with no regard to the rule of law, police professionalism and the law and procedure governing their conduct.
The Inspector General of Police must:
a) release Selvach immediately and issue a public apology to him and his family;
b) take stern action, including criminal prosecution and disciplinary action against the policemen who assaulted and arrested Selvach;
c) support the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), to function as an independent, external oversight body to investigate complaints about police personnel and to make the police accountable for their conduct;
d) stop the unjust practice of arresting and re-arresting under preventive detention laws;
e) undertake to respect the right of the people for unimpeded and free access to lawyers at all times;
f) require the police especially those in plainclothes to identify themselves and display their authorisation when affecting their powers;
g) support human rights education and training programmes, with a view to changing the attitudes and methods of law enforcement personnel.
Submitted by Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) on behalf of the family of K. Selvach Santhiran