Friday, 22 June 2007

Memorandum to SUHAKAM 1: Arrests of 2 human rights defenders in JB a blatant abuse of police powers and gross violation of Constitutional rights

Date: 19 June 2007

Memorandum to SUHAKAM: Arrests of 2 human rights defenders in JB a blatant abuse of police powers and gross violation of Constitutional rights

Background

On 17 June 2007, residents in Johor Bahru organised a protest against stark rising crime rates in Johor in front of the Menteri Besar’s residence. Two SUARAM activists, Nyam Kee Han and See Siew Mun, who had intended to distribute a leaflet calling for the setting up of the Independent Police Complaint and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) at the demonstration, were arrested by police at about 11.00am when the demonstration was about to end.

Nyam Kee Han (male, 24) is the branch coordinator of SUARAM Johor Bahru while See Siew Mun (female, 27) is a secretariat member of the branch.

They were detained at the Johor Bahru police station for a night on 17 June and subsequently brought to magistrate’s court on 18 June for remand. The police applied for a three-day remand. The lawyer of the detainees, Abdul Razak protested the unjustified application. In the end, the Johor Bahru Magistrate Court only granted a 24-hour remand order at 2.30 pm, 18 June 2007.

Today, the police may release them, or charge them or apply for a further remand order. If charged by the police, the two human rights defenders may face charges of participating in illegal assembly and distributing leaflets under the Sedition Act.

Arrests a disrespect for Constitutional rights and blatant abuse of police power

SUARAM strongly condemns the arbitrary arrests of the two human rights defenders. They are clear examples of abuse of power by the police, misusing their authority to intimidate those who tried to expose the slack attitude and incompetence of the police force in resolving crimes.

In a time when crime rates are soaring high and the general public losing confidence in the police in solving crimes and protecting pubic safety, it is regrettable that the police seem to be more interested in intimidating and harassing peaceful citizens instead of busting crimes and catching criminals. This is not only a waste of public monies but gross violations of human rights of the citizen.

We therefore would like to raise the following complaints:

1. Arbitrary arrest

It must be stressed that the arrests should not have taken place in the first place. The two arrested activists were merely exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression which is unambiguously guaranteed by the Federal Constitution, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Malaysian Declaration of Human Rights. The demonstration on 17 June 2007 in Johor Bahru was peaceful, with no untoward incidents throughout.

2. Illegal detention

The police have blatantly abused their powers by detaining the two activists for more than 24 hours without charging them. Nyam and See were arrested at 11.30am on 17 June 2007 but only brought to the Johor Bahru Magistrate Court at 2.30pm on 18 June 2007. It is pertinent to point out that statements from the two arrested have not been taken by the police. Article 5(4) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia clearly states:

Where a person is arrested and not released he shall without unreasonably delay, and in any case within twenty-four hours (excluding the time of any necessary journey) be produced before a magistrate and shall not be further detained in custody without the magistrate’s authority.”

In the case of Nyam and See, the police have failed to produce them before the magistrate within 24 hours. The detention of the two had been illegal by the time they were brought to the Magistrate’s court.

3. Unwarranted search of detainees’ house

We have also been informed that the police have obtained warrant to search the houses of the two arrested activists. This again clearly illustrates the abuse of power by the police. Based on the allegations brought against them – illegal assembly and distributing allegedly seditious leaflets – there is absolutely no need to search their houses as the two were arrested whilst having the leaflets with them. SUARAM views the search by the police at their houses as a further abuse of power and an attempt to intimidate the friends and families of the two.

4. Unjustified remand order

We strongly protest against the remand order given to the police. First of all, a case of illegal assembly and leafleting is very straight forward. There is no need for further investigation. Secondly, even if the police intend to conduct further investigation, they can always do so by giving police bail and release the detainees. The detention and the remand order are totally unnecessary and unjustified.

It must also be pointed out that no statement was taken by the police from the two within the first 24 hours of their arrests. Since no statement was taken, we question the need for remand orders on the two for further investigations. We view this as a deliberate attempt by the police to delay the release of the two arrested activists, especially when their statements have yet to be taken within 24 hours of their arrests.

5. Mala-Fide of Police Action

The arrests and the deliberate attempt by the police to delay the release of the two arrested activists clearly demonstrate that the police yet again failed to carry out its duties to protect the fundamental right of the people to live without fear, but instead have instilled fear of the public by abusing their powers blatantly.

Without charging them or taking their statements, the arrests of the two activists by the police are clearly a revenge with bad faith meted out to punish the human rights defenders for their dissent and action against police corruption and abuse of powers, rather than to investigate their cases.

We also deem this as an incident used by the police to silent rising public criticism against the police for their incompetence in solving crimes and corrupt practices.

Conclusion and Demands

The case of Nyam Kee Han and See Siew Mun illustrate further the falling public confidence in the police force. The need to set up the IPCMC is more urgent than ever to restoring the professionalism of the police force, enhancing the efficiency in solving crimes and ensuring public safety for all.

We demand SUHAKAM to:

  1. Pressure for the immediate and unconditional release of Nyam and See.

  1. Ensure that SUHAKAM’s recommendations on the right to peaceful assembly be respected by the police at all times.

  1. Demand that that the 24-hour investigation period be respected and not be misused by the police.

  1. Ensure that remand orders would not be conveniently given by the magistrates as in this case.

  1. Pressure for concrete action to be taken against police personnel who misuse their powers.

  1. Push for the implementation of the IPCMC immediately.

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