THE JOURNAL consists of selected, most notable and newsworthy POSTINGS OF THE DAY.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

> Suhakam: Cops guilty of excessive force

A Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) inquiry panel has found that the police used excessive force during the Bandar Mahkota Cheras (BMC) fracas on May 27 last year.

The panel held the unanimous opinion that there was excessive use of force by the police and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) personnel on 23-year-old mechanic Chang Jiun Haur (left) and his employer, Chan Siew Meng.

Chang had claimed that the FRU and police had stopped his car and assaulted him and his three passengers when they unwittingly arrived at the scene of a protest by BMC residents.

Agreeing with Chang, Suhakam commissioner and head panel-member Zaitoon Othman told a press conference that excessive use of force by the police and FRU “had violated the safety and security” of Jiun Haur and Siew Meng.

While no excessive force was used on the other two passengers - Jiun Haur’s sister Jiun Mein and his friend Chok Kem Hoo - Zaitoon said “nevertheless, their safety and security were threatened by the aggressive actions of the law enforcement personnel”.

In the report, the panel said it acknowledges that police officers may use force and firearms in the discharge of their duty to maintain law and order.
This particular incident, however, did not warrant the use of excessive force by the FRU and police involved, it said.

While the panel found that law enforcement personnel were responsible for the violation of the victims’ human rights, it was unable to identify who in particular was responsible for the violation.

This is due to the "contradicting and unclear evidence" obtained from witnesses, explained Zaitoon.

Two witnesses had identified FRU personnel Lance Corporal Shahrizan Abdul Rashid as being among the alleged assaulters of Jiun Haur and Siew Meng.

Zaitoon, however, said this finding could not be used as “conclusive” as the witnesses had also identified Shahrizan as having been at Bandar Mahkota Cheras prior to May 27, 2008.

Shahrizan’s testimony - that he was on duty at Bandar Mahkota Cheras only on that night and had not been there on any other date - was corroborated by evidence given by several other police personnel.

On claims that Jiun Haur’s was driving recklessly and had refused to get out of his car when ordered to do - therefore leading to the assault - Zaitoon said the panel could not deliberate or comment on this, because the allegations have become the subject of a court case. 

Section 12(3) of the Suhakam Act 1999 prohibits the commission from enquiring into any matter that has become the subject of proceedings in any court of law.

Recommendations for police

The panel recommended that the FRU and police urgently implement international standards, among other measures, to restrain use of force and to apply force only gradually in accordance with the situation.

Any injury resulting from use of force by police personnel should be reported promptly to their superior officers and steps must be taken to treat those injured, said Zaitoon (centre in photo).

It was revealed during the inquiry that 15 minutes had elapsed between the time Jiun Haur and Siew Meng were taken to the police station after the assault, and when they were taken to the hospital for medical treatment. 

Upon receipt of such reports, Zaitoon said, there should be “an effective review process available with the exercise of jurisdiction of independent administrative or prosecutorial authorities and the report shall be subjected to administrative review and judicial control”.

To a question, panel member Chiam Heng Keng (left) said this recommendation was in reference to the creation of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.

Panel-member Khalid Ibrahim, meanwhile, called on the police and FRU to require their personnel to display their names and badge numbers visibly during field operations.

This would not only facilitate identification of the personnel but also remind them of their duty to uphold people’s human rights, said Khalid.

The panel’s concluding recommendation was for the police to conduct their own investigation to ascertain those responsible for the violations and to recommend to the public prosecutor that action be taken against them.

The report, said Zaitoon, will be submitted immediately to the police, Home Ministry, attorney- general’s chambers, and the complainants.

To questions as to whether the report would have any effect, Zaitoon said: “We can only present our recommendations. We are not in a position to know what the authorities are going to do. But as long as we continue making our observations... and recommendations, we hope they will be taken up.”

On the same point, Khalid (left) said there have been gradual improvements in the police force, as evidenced by the increased restraint in the use of force, compared to past incidents.

“It’s not that easy to make them comply all the time, but I hope that they will minimise their mistakes (over time),” he added. 

The panel, which began its inquiry last July, was set three terms of reference:

a) To inquire whether or not any law enforcement personnel, in performance of their duty to maintain law and order, had used excessive force during the incident;

b) If there was excessive use of force, whether there was any violation of human rights of any person(s) and if so, who was responsible for this; and

c) To recommend what action should be taken against those responsible for violation of human rights - Malaysiakini.