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“No one is above the law” or are they? : A history of sexual abuse and crime by the Malaysian Police

TW // Sexual assault

A picture of Azalina Othman taken by Free Malaysia Today

Rape cases no longer surprise Malaysians, having previously made headlines again and again. However, when news outlets reported another rape case on January 2, 2023, Malaysians across the country were both saddened and outraged. If the 1553 rape cases reported by the Department of Statistics Malaysia in 2021 is any indication of the state of Malaysian safety, it is that we are still struggling with rape culture.

The particular case reported on the 2nd January however, stretch rape cases beyond the issue of rape culture. According to reports, a 16-year-old girl was victimised by a police officer investigating a rape case in which she claimed to have been raped by her stepfather. The officer then exploited the situation and raped the victim. Beyond rape culture, the situation also highlighted one of Malaysia’s serious issues, abuse of power

Abuse of Power by Police in Malaysia

This is not the first time Malaysians bore witness to police misconduct. Several other cases involving abuse of power by police including police brutality have been previously reported. Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainuddin, the former Home Minister noted that between the years 2015 to 2019, 93 people had faced death while in custody-many of which being Indian-Malaysian minorities. This paints a picture of Malaysia's power abuse by police.

Indian Malaysians during a funeral ceremony for a victim of police brutality/ The Rakyat Post

Case 1

In May 2013, Dharmendran a/l Narayanasamy was detained for the attempted murder of two people in Cheras. It was later reported that he had died in police custody on the same day. It was only confirmed 3 years later by the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) that the police in charge of interrogating Dharmendran a/l Narayanasamy was responsible for his death. Hospital Kuala Lumpur Forensic Department recorded that the violence he faced that led to his death was so torturous that they found the victim’s ears to have been stapled while alive.

Case 2

Another case of custodial death also happened in May 2021 to Sivabalan Subramaniam, a 42-year-old man who was called to assist in investigation over an extortion case. He was called at 11.45am and less than an hour later, the police called his family member saying that he had died at 12.25pm. However, the case was dismissed as it was classified as sudden death due to heart problems. This does not stop organisations like The Malaysian Bar to demand immediate and independent investigation. The incident proves to be an erosion of confidence in enforcement authorities especially when the same police station that detained Sivabalan was involved with the custodial of A Ganapathy the previous month.

Case 3

In Bukit Mertajam, May 2022, several traffic policemen were suspended for assaulting a person at a roadblock. The incident was recorded over a 31 seconds video clip which viralled in social media. Although there was no follow-up to the case and the occurrence of the assault was not further elucidated, the “31 seconds” act of violence done by enforcement authorities is enough to taint people’s trust on them.

These are merely three examples of police misconduct among many others. These cases raised suspicions on police authority and stained the name of law enforcers as Malaysians became weary in trusting the people who should have been responsible in protecting the peace and safety of the nation.

What does it say about Malaysia’s law enforcement?

“No one is above the law!” tweeted the Minister of Law and Institutional Reform, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman as a response to the rape case involving the 16-year-old. In a statement posted on her twitter, Datuk Seri Azalina reminded the public on the laws regulating the procedure of child witnesses under the Evidence of Child Witness Act 2007 and the Comprehensive Guidelines on Conducting Sexual Crime Cases Against Children.

The existence of such laws should have prevented the incident, considering that police officers were supposed to be law enforcers and not law breakers. This begs the question whether “No one is above the law!” still holds true when authorities could break the law and barely received any repercussions as seen with many cases involving police brutality.

Many Malaysians believe that there is a lack of accountability and transparency when it comes to police misconduct as many cases have been swept under the rug. This is indicative of Malaysia’s weak law enforcement as the law seems to only apply to a group of people and excludes the other. So what can the government do to curb the injustice and restore equality before the law?

The IPCC Bill

Malaysian Police/ MalaysiaKini

The Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) Bill seeks to establish an independent oversight commission for police conduct. The Bill was passed by the Dewan Rakyat for its second reading in July 2022. The IPCC serves as an independent body to hold police accountable for their misconduct and increase transparency in investigations.

The commission has the authority to investigate the alleged misconduct and report their findings to relevant authorities. In addition to that, the commission also has the power to advise the government and relevant authorities like the Police Force Commission and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission regarding police integrity. On the surface, it seems that the bill might just be what Malaysia needs for police reform, another independent body. The passing of the bill comes with many criticisms.

Amnesty claimed that the IPCC would only shield the police intuition better than they would protect the victims of those misconduct. The Enforcement Agency Commission Integrity (EAIC), an independent body that oversees enforcement agencies including the police was granted the power for search and seizures allowing for a more meaningful investigation unlike the IPCC who were also given the power for investigation but was excluded from the power for search and seizures.

The limited powers of IPCC that only allows for recommendations to the government and other relevant authorities does not guarantee that those recommendations and advice will not fall on deaf ears which is the case for EAIC. In addition to the commission members being appointed by the Prime Minister and the King, the Police Force could also be part of the commission, raising suspicions towards IPCC’s title as an “independent commission”. The limitations of the IPCC therefore, leads to the question whether the government is serious about police reform and upholding justice. It is possible that the IPCC could just be a puppet to the government, masquerading behind the banner of upholding the law because when authorities cannot be above the law, the law could at least be on their side.

However, if we are being optimistic, the IPCC is paving the way for establishing an independent body that oversees the police personnel to maintain integrity. The Bill may be Malaysia’s baby steps into taking police reform seriously but if there is enough political will, Malaysia may be able to take strides in making progress for police reform.

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