Say no to police state

P Gunasegaram
Jul 12, 2013

QUESTION TIME Who decides policy in this country? Is it the police? Are we as a nation supposed to be subservient to the police and ask their permission first before we implement anything? Are they, a government department, allowed to lobby actively for what they want and even against things that Parliament has passed?

The way the police have launched a campaign for the return of the notorious Emergency Ordinance (EO), one would think that their crime-fighting abilities have been crippled as a result of the repeal of that oppressive piece of legislation. That’s far from the truth.

The Emergency Ordinance and the infamous Internal Security Act, were repealed in 2011 and replaced with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and changes to other laws. Together with this, the state of emergency that prevailed in this country since independence under three different proclamations was lifted.

A cursory look at the Emergency Ordinance of 1969 and some of its orders made in the aftermath of the May 13, 1969 racial riots gave considerable power to the police and government of the day to override any and all provisions with regard to personal rights. It was terribly draconian – a police state in other words where anyone could be arrested and detained.

If anyone doubts that it was indeed a police state, all one has to do is to take a look at some of the provisions when it was promulgated. Here is a sampling, especially as it relates to police powers:

•Any police officer may arrest anyone if he is satisfied that he should be detained to preserve public order, to suppress violence or to prevent violent crimes.

•Any person arrested can be detained in police custody for up to 60 days. He can be detained for 24 hours with the authority of an inspector or above, and up to 48 hours with the authority of an assistant superintendent and above. With a report to the inspector-general, a person can be detained for more than 30 days.

•With the approval of the home minister, a person can be detained for up to two years.

Note that no crime need be committed before detention and that the police officer just needs to be satisfied that the person needs to be detained for the mentioned reasons. That basically gives a huge amount of discretionary power to the police. And where there is discretion, there is abuse.

It is amazing to think that this law was in existence for some 42 years, long after the conditions that caused its implementation had passed. Its counterpart, the Internal Security Act which also provided for detention without trial, was in existence for more than half a century before being repealed!

It should be noted as well that the EO was promulgated then for the express purpose of nipping any racial violence in the bud by nabbing those who might be positioned to cause trouble, especially given rising tensions at the time. For a short period of time it may have been acceptable but it should never have been prolonged for over four decades. That in itself was serious abuse.

Never intended for crime prevention

It was never intended for the prevention of normal everyday crime. In any functioning democracy which respects and protects the legitimate rights of the people, preventive detention has no place simply because of the substantial room there is for abuse.

It basically makes the police force a lazy, incompetent and even corrupt one. Lazy because, you don’t need to gather evidence – just arrest and detain. Incompetent because over time, investigation is not needed. Corrupt because people will be willing to pay not to get detained.

If the EO is given full rein and policemen and the home minister exercise all their powers under this, we are nothing more than a police state. And it has been shown repeatedly that such powers are often abused and remove the safeguards for the proper functioning of society with adequate checks and balances.

It is horrifying that newly-appointed Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi seems to be in league with the police to bring back this obnoxious piece of legislation whose only aim is to suffocate legitimate dissent against the ruling party and government and re-instill a climate of fear and apprehension to control the public.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak must be regretting his decision to make Zahid the home minister who seems set on undoing everything Najib had done in terms of freeing up the country and giving people back their basic rights. Zahid is also now opposed to repealing the Sedition Act. Reportedly, Najib had promised this to the cabinet.

Lobbying for the EO also involved newspapers, with The Star front-paging reports quoting anonymous police officials who strongly maintained that the repeal of the EO had made the job of the police much more difficult. Other such views were also given prominence with little coverage of opposite views.

The police is the department that is least trusted in government (see chart). Their record has been far from exemplary and death and torture in custody have been a matter of routine with no prosecution significant to the crime committed.

The police publicly fought and even threatened against the implementation of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) recommended by a royal commission headed by a former chief justice which would have the power to investigate police misdeeds.

Then-prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi abandoned his election promise to set up the IPCMC, and one of the major reasons was the strong, vocal objection of the police force, which went above the heads of government leaders to appeal directly to Umno.

On top of that, police assertions that the repeal of the IO led to an increase in crimes is not substantiated by its own figures which show that crime (see chart) at first actually increased even when the EO was there and declined afterwards and even after the EO was repealed in 2012.

It would be a dire mistake to give the police back their powers under the EO, a law specifically introduced to curb racial riots. The police must simply get the evidence necessary and make their case in court if they want people put away, the way they are required to in every democratic, developed and ethical society in the world.

Anyone who supports the EO simply and unequivocally supports the establishment of a police state whereby the police can detain and restrict the movements of anyone at their complete whim and fancy. The police and the home minister may want it. The rest of us don’t.

Every Malaysian should strongly oppose such a move and give notice to the powers that be that he will not support a government that takes some of his most basic rights away from him just to keep the police and the home minister happy and satisfied.


P GUNASEGARAM is founding editor of KiniBiz.

  1. #1 by Cinapek on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 1:19 am

    I hope I am wrong but the manner in which the PDRM has arm twisted the Govt to drop the IPCMC and now to bring back the EO smacks of holding the people and Govt to ransom. Especially the EO. Is the deteriorating crime situation deliberately encouraged in order to justify the bringing back of the EO?

  2. #2 by Noble House on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 3:32 am

    Since when is “public safety” the root password to the Constitution? With the number of custodial deaths in question, anyone must be insane enough to allow the police with more abusive power under such draconian law. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.

  3. #3 by yhsiew on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 8:17 am

    The EO “crisis” will test whether Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is a bigger flip-flop than Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

  4. #4 by Bigjoe on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 8:58 am

    Taking away the EO is more than just taking away and unjust power of the police, it really is about needed reform. Proof that reform much needed is best illustrated by Shahidan Kassim’s boast that the “EO Substitute will be better than the Patriot Act”

    The fact that the top leaders think that they need something even close to a controversial law designed against foreign threats and terrorist, shows their frame of mind is completely wrong in the first place.

    Is our domestic situation so dire that is similar to being in a state of unofficial war with criminals? Are our criminals like Al-Qaeda – funded with arms and technology and ideological zealotry?

    The fact the top leaders think that way is SCREAMS THAT THEY ARE UNQUALIFIED to do the job that they should be doing. How would you feel if your maid said she can’t work without a 5-star restaurant equipment and 5-star hotel cleaning equipment? or that your Bangla worker said he can’t work without state of the art Robots and equipment a Ferrari or Lamboghini factory has?

    Yup, you fire them – the same with the lot of them that complain of not having the EO

  5. #5 by Winston on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 10:16 am

    The first principle of a democracy is that the government must not have unfettered, unquestioned powers.
    Just look at Egypt.
    The people have just booted out a dictator with the hope that the next government would be wiser and better!!
    But no!
    Just when the seat has been warmed, then it started doing exactly the same as any dictator.
    By grabbing absolute, unquestionable power for itself.
    Luckily, the Egyptians wouldn’t buy that.
    And they made certain that no government that falls short of being inclusive and democratic will be allowed to run the country again.

  6. #6 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 10:39 am

    Umno perversely sees the going-ons in egypt as an example of democracy gone wrong. So umno believes that it is a good idea to resort to the completely undemocratic, outdated and draconian arrest-without-trial powers. The need to fight crime with those powers is only an excuse. The real purpose is really something else. We all know well that umno wanted those power so that political dissidents could be locked away.

    Umno did not realise that what happened there was purely the result of prolonged oppression and suppression of the people by the undemocratic government. Ironically, by enacting those laws umno could just be pushing the people out into the streets instead of keeping them away.

    In any case, a government that has lost all ability to govern would naturally see the need to use draconian laws to stay in power.

    The end for umno is near. And I predict that umno would still end with jib – the letter “N” in “RAHMAN”.

  7. #7 by achoo on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 10:43 am

    Actually the police and the justice department are selective in bringing people to court. I suppose during cross examination the accuse may reveal their connection and dealings with powerful people.
    You get the feeling after reading about senior people involved with the “dark sides”.
    On the other hand these people cannot be put back on the street. So you lock them up?

  8. #8 by sheriff singh on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 12:15 pm

    Q. Who decides policy in this country? Is it the police? YES.

    Q. Are we as a nation supposed to be subservient to the police and ask their permission first before we implement anything? Absolutely YES

    Q. Are they, a government department, allowed to lobby actively for what they want and even against things that Parliament has passed? Of Course YES. Who are we to argue with them? They are King.

  9. #9 by sheriff singh on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 12:16 pm

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Q. Who decides policy in this country? Is it the police? YES.

    Q. Are we as a nation supposed to be subservient to the police and ask their permission first before we implement anything? Absolutely YES

    Q. Are they, a government department, allowed to lobby actively for what they want and even against things that Parliament has pas$ed? Of Course YES. Who are we to argue with them? They are King.

  10. #10 by Di Shi Jiu on Saturday, 13 July 2013 - 5:59 pm

    To be honest, I have no problems with PDRM getting all the powers they need to protect the rakyat.

    The problem I DO have is when PDRM becomes the enforcement arm of UMNO/BN and using those same powers against those who simply hold a different political view.

    There are good decent personnel in PDRM who must be sicken to see a police force which has betrayed the very people they have sworn to protect.

    I just don’t known how any PDRM officer could hold his/her head high when representing Malaysia in an international forum.

  11. #11 by mauriyaII on Sunday, 14 July 2013 - 11:48 am

    Najib came up with the mantra – You help me, I help you – to subvert the elections into a vote buying one. He did so blatantly disregarding the election rule which forbids vote buying.

    Now the PDRM fellows are emulating the example set by Najib. For all their help rendered before, during and after the GE to UMNO/BN, they are demanding their pound of flesh.

    They DO NOT want to be bound by ANY rules and regulations regulating their SOP and corrupted way of life.

    They arm-twisted the Sleepy Head not to implement the IPCMC failing which they threatened not to do their specific duties for which the government (rakyat) pays them.

    The Home Minister is also made to dance to their tune because they condoned his thuggish behaviour in 2006 for not hauling him into the lockup. He was saved the punishment meted out to the likes of Kugan and others.

    So now, even the Home Minister is for more draconian laws so that the PDRM can really be the raja or ‘maharajalela’ in the country.

    If Najib decides not to fulfill his promise to rid the country of the draconian Sedition, EO laws just because the UMNO supreme council elections are round the corner and he does not want to lose some of the votes of the extreme right wing elements in UMNO, then he should realize he will be worse than the flip-flop Sleepy Head.

    I hope he would be man enough to stand against the dark forces in UMNO and do what is just and good for the country and all Malaysians.

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