Gobind Singh Deo, via e-mail
I challenge Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein to a debate over what more could be done to make police stations safer for members of the public so as to avoid further recurrences of incidents such as deaths, assault and rape of detainees in police custody.
The minister seems clueless as to how he can further improve the police force, especially in light of the rape of an Indonesian woman by three officers in a police station in Prai recently.
It is worrying to read his response to a call for him to resign as Home Minister over the case, saying, “We have already ensured that they are brought to court. What else can we do? This is our country’s system.”
Such a statement by the Home Minister in such a situation does not inspire an ounce of confidence. It also doesn’t help that the minister further failed to take a position on the implementation of the IPCMC, which would perhaps offer some hope to the nation that the government is serious about complaints against the police and how such complaints are to be dealt with.
The minister’s cold responses to complaints against the force shows how out of touch he is with what the real issues are and what needs to be done to solve the problem. I think he just doesn’t know what’s going on or understand what is happening around him.
He should learn from cases in the past where people have died, have been abused and have been raped in custody. He should learn from the deaths of Kugan, Teoh Beng Hock and Ahmad Sarbani Mohamed.
These were cases in which allegations of brutality were raised and inquiries were held. All of them point to weaknesses in measures which currently exist in police stations or places where individuals are taken for questioning when suspected of having committed offences.
The Teoh Beng Hock RCI went so far as to recommend broad changes to be made in order to make these places more secure so as to avoid such incidents from occurring again in future. The Home Minister does not seem to have understood anything at all from all this.
And what of cases in which police officers are accused of rape and abuse of women and young girls in police stations?
In 2008, a police officer, was charged at the Petaling Jaya Sessions Court for raping a 17-year- old student and forcing her to perform oral sex on him in the Putra Heights police station.
The trial saw the victim describe how she and her boyfriend were stopped by a police patrol car at 6am on June 18 that year and taken back to the police station. At the police station she and her boyfriend were taken to separate rooms for questioning.
There, she was raped and forced to perform oral sex on the officer. In her police report, the victim alleged that the officer told her not to be afraid as he had seen many other girls like her previously.
No action was taken until the matter was raised in Parliament and exposed in the press.
And now we have a case in which three officers are alleged to have raped an Indonesian maid in a police station. The three have been charged swiftly, but not until after the matter was highlighted in the press and demonstrations were held both here and in Indonesia, which even saw the burning of our national flag.
How does the minister have the stomach to say “what else can we do? This is our country’s system” in light of all this? This is not what we expect from the Home Minister in a situation as pressing as this.
The question is how do you make the police more accountable for their actions? How do you put a stop to it?
How do you make senior officers and even the government more responsible for incidents like these so as to ensure that officers are not motivated to break laws in pursuit of their own agenda and there are no more assaults, rapes and deaths in police custody?
This is where the minister’s response is seriously lacking. He should tell us, what has he done to make police stations safer since becoming Home Minister? How has he as minister reduced “opportunity” for such incidents from happening in police stations?
For example, how many stations have we fitted with CCTV cameras which would record all the movements of suspects inside of stations so as to reduce the risk of incidents like these from happening?
How about interviews? Have we put into place any system which would demand that interrogations of suspects be done with more transparency and greater responsibility? For example, have we introduced a system where interrogations are recorded so as to avoid assault, threats, suggestions of corruption, if not questions suggestive sexually in nature against women in particular?
And as stated above, what changes have been made to make senior officers such as the officers in charge of the police stations or lock-ups more responsible for incidents against anyone during their watch?
If we are serious, we must make sure it works all the way up the ranks. Senior officers will keep their juniors in check more so if they know they too will be held responsible if laws are broken and civilians hurt whilst in custody.
These are merely some of the suggestions which could help improve things. The setting up of the IPCMC will also boost the image of the police force as they will have an independent measure against them in terms of how they perform and deal with the public.
It is most regrettable that the minister has chosen to trivialise a matter of such great importance. Hishammuddin must explain his lackadaisical response to this very pressing issue. I call upon him to therefore accept my challenge. I will raise these matters in Parliament and I expect him to attend personally to respond.-The writer is MP for Puchong-FMT