Saturday, May 30, 2009

PDRM’s 3 minutes to disperse….. 1,2,3 Catch, Catch, Catch!

by Augustine Anthony

It is now clear that the assurance given by Justice Syed Ahmad Idid to Anthony Clement Skinner (who is now the Kota Kinabalu High Court Judge) in the case of Datuk Yong Teck Lee v PP & Anor 1993 1mlj 295 has travelled through the intestinal passages of abuses of constitutional protection of citizens and now awaits it’s final moment. To be flushed down in the toilet bowl.

Skinner’s (as he then was and whom I know as a judge blessed with enviable judicial temperament) fears were well founded as he provided an illustration of the extensive powers of the police under the Police Act 1967 and the likely abuses by the police.

“‘If three school boys decide to go to the cinema for a film show, they cannot do so. It is illegal to do so unless they have a licence from the OCPD to do so. Any steps taken in furtherance of the intention (without a licence) would render the meeting or assembly illegal and any person taking part thereto shall be guilty of an offence.”

Justice Syed Ahmad Idid then confidently provided words of comfort and assurance when he went on to say:-

“I am unable to accept this contention or illustration in the face of the fact that thousands of patrons, without any licence, frequent the cinemas and other functions every day and night in Malaysia and the police do not charge them under the Act or the Code………….. But assuming for one moment that the three school boys entered the cinema hall and are met by 100 other people whom they do not know, and who are bent on having an illegal meeting and not watching the film. The authorities charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order and public peace rush in. The school boys………. have a defence in two other instances: firstly, when they follow the route and/or time set by the police for the assembly or meetings; or secondly, they disperse when the police so order”

Very nice, all of it, in papers and court judgments but the reality is far from what is described in judgments like this.

Must ordinary citizens need to go through the hardship of an unnecessary and unwarranted arrest in the first place? Why should they be subjected to a charge in court that would require engaging a lawyer that would be a costly affair and not to mention the waste of public funds to prosecute such trivial offences?

Take for example the recent arrest made by the police of the 7 Perak Legislative Assembly Members and a Member of Parliament and some others seen attired in black in Ipoh on the 26.05.2008.

Did the police provide a clear route or time for people to disperse? I need not explain or write further. Suffice for me to say that Malaysiakini, YouTube and many other press reports had revealed enough for people to judge the conduct of the police.

This is one ugly episode that could have been wholly avoided if the police had only displayed some restraint particularly so in view of the fact that the prevailing atmosphere at the time of the arrest was peaceful and orderly.

It baffles me as to why the police need to deal with peace loving Malaysians like as though they are some dangerous criminals who threaten the peace and security of our country.

It baffles me even more simply because as a lawyer I come across many police officers in my day to day job be it in court or elsewhere and I find many of them, when met personally, have polite and pleasant dispositions with hopes and aspirations just like many of us but I cannot understand why collectively as a police force their conduct invites such disparagement.

I simply do not think that they enjoy doing what they are ordered to but perhaps more compelling will be the reason that insubordination will lead to loss of career prospect or even loss of job.

It is for this reason a minister or senior police officer should not simply give orders to their subordinates, the very orders that they themselves will find it hard to execute.

Remember! People in power can delegate their authority but not their responsibilities. As such I will not blame the ordinary policemen who carry out these orders but their superiors who gave such ridiculous orders to be executed.

The persistence of the Police in the application of S27 of the Police Act 1967 liberally, especially against members of political parties that have opposing views than of the ruling government, I am afraid is creating unnecessary and undue anxiety in people.

If M. Kulasegaran a hugely popular elected Member of Parliament for Ipoh Barat constituency (where the arrest took place) and V. Sivakumar also an elected representative who is equally popular among the Perakians (or perhaps Malaysians) could not walk freely in public and mingle around with voters without fear of arrests by the police then why bother having elected representatives.

The police must understand that these are elected representatives. Surely their presence in public places will invariably invite some well wishers, some seeking help or even some for casual banter and it is the duty of the police to protect these elected representatives during these occasions and simultaneously promote such healthy assemblies and not otherwise impede or obstruct them thus creating unnecessary anxiety amongst the public.

The word “pemimpin berjiwa rakyat” was not coined simply for the sake of lip service. It has a deeper meaning. It creates a necessity for leaders to be always close to people. And it is for this reason that a true leader is judged by his grassroot support that drives home the point that he had touched base.

The Prime Minister knows this more than other political leaders for the simple reason that the Malays loved his father as a true people’s leader. The prime minister’s regular meet-the-people session is certainly to replicate the glory days of his father during his time.

So why should there be double standards? People ask.

Just as much as the leaders of the component parties of the ruling federal government, the leaders of the opposition parties also have their sworn duties as elected representatives to regularly meet the people and share the problems faced by them.

Why is their attempt to be close to the people made difficult by the constant harassment from PDRM and its liberal use of the Police Act 1967 to arrest people who gather peacefully?

Right thinking people are already questioning if elected representatives, who had shown no hostility and no violence towards any person especially to the police, could be publicly humiliated by such unpleasant arrests, how could ordinary people expect the police to be their guardian for peace and security.

There are other nagging thoughts that need to be addressed too. Are the arrests of these elected representatives done deliberately to put fear in people to such an extent that it is hoped by those in power that a climate of fear will be designed in such a way that it will prevent ordinary people from assembling peacefully in the future.

Whichever way one sees it; one thing is clear and that is, the ruling government is promoting a hate culture that is unhealthy in the long run.

While the current prime minister is making the needed efforts to win the trust of the people, perhaps if he can only caution the police to be more undemonstrative against peaceful assemblers and offer more breathing space for people who are opposed to the views of the ruling federal government then it may very well go a long way in soothing the people’s anger.

Without going into the overdrive of religious zeal, I can safely say that all teachings of religions drive home the point that respecting human rights is respecting divine laws and none can go wrong by respecting the wisdoms imbued in laws that govern nature.

So can we Malaysians get some respect before we return the same to people in authority?

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