Kidnapping Case ................. "One minute, Saraswathy Govindasamy was chatting outside her front door with her eight-month pregnant niece and neighbor, Selvamalar Nadarajah. The next, her niece and four others had been shot dead by a police SWAT team." Policing the Police TIME ASIA: APRIL 16, 2001, VOL.157 NO.15
Malaysia's controversial cops face criticism and potential
censure for repeated brutalities
It was chilling testimony. One minute, Saraswathy Govindasamy was chatting outside her front door with her eight-month pregnant niece and neighbor, Selvamalar Nadarajah. The next, her niece and four others had been shot dead by a police SWAT team.
"I rushed out when I heard the gunshots," Saraswathy, a 44-year-old housewife told a Kuala Lumpur court in early March. She claims she tried to alert police that a pregnant woman was inside the house they had surrounded. "Do you want to die? Go back inside," a policeman shouted, according to Saraswathy. "About two hours later a police truck arrived. They brought out five bodies from the house and into the waiting truck." One of the bodies was Selvamalar's.
The dead woman's two children, Alameloo Mangai, 11, and her sister Keerthana, 8, are suing the government and police for their mother's death. Police officers responsible for the Oct. 2, 1998, raid, which was part of an investigation into the kidnapping of a prominent politician's son, have told the court they had reason to believe the boy was in the house and acted in self-defense after shots were fired from inside. During the earlier inquiry into the deaths, police claimed they had found two guns in the house.
The graphic testimony given so far in the ongoing trial-including detailed forensic descriptions of how Selvamalar was shot in the head and the condition of her unborn child-comes at an unwelcome time for Malaysia's troubled police force. The case revives longstanding complaints by human rights advocates that the nation's law enforcement officers are trigger happy, practicing what human rights group Hakam and others describe as an "unofficial shoot-to-kill policy." (Malaysia's inspector general of police wasn't available to be interviewed for this story.)
The country's fledgling Human Rights Commission has just concluded a public inquiry into allegations of police misconduct last November at an anti-government demonstration. During the inquiry, commissioners heard lengthy reports of misconduct-unprovoked violence, unnecessarily long detention of arrested protestors and deliberate humiliation of prisoners. One woman gave evidence that she was forced to strip naked and subjected to a body cavity search.
The commission is also considering launching an inquiry into allegations that police failed to intervene in recent ethnic clashes between Malay and Indian squatters that left six dead and 48 severely wounded. Human Rights Commissioner Anuar Zainal Abidin is studying a 108-page report submitted by an ad hoc group-the Police Watch and Human Rights Committee-that lodges a formal complaint against high-ranking officers alleging no protection was given to ethnic Indians during the riots.
The "general public perception of the police has been very severely dented," says Sulaiman Abdullah, a prominent lawyer. The current controversies are particularly troubling for many Malaysians, Sulaiman adds, in the wake of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's imprisonment and conviction on charges of corruption and sodomy. After Anwar was severely beaten on the night of his arrest in September 1998, an internal police inquiry failed to identify the culprit. It took a Royal Commission of Inquiry to determine that then-police chief Rahim Noor had administered the beating. (In a subsequent trial, Rahim was found guilty of the charge and he is appealing a two-month prison sentence.) Anwar argued that his convictions were the result of a conspiracy orchestrated by the police at the behest of senior government figures.
The string of controversies are bound to "affect the perception of the people about the police force," says Saravanan Murugan, a Senator in Malaysia's appointed upper house and a senior member of the Malaysian Indian Congress, the Indian component of the country's ruling coalition. "The people have a right to be concerned."
The government has staunchly defended police conduct, although Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi-who is also Home Minister and responsible for supervising the force-has acknowledged that the police have a p.r. problem. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has gone on the offensive. In parliament last week, he warned that his government was willing to break with "so-called international norms" to preserve peace.
The Human Rights Commission is due to present its official
report for 2000 to parliament by the end of April. Its recommendations-and
the government's response-are a litmus test for human rights in Malaysia,
activists say. Anuar is cautious when addressing the charge by opposition
politicians that police are often a willing tool to further the government's
political ends. "I don't know about that. We'll tackle the simpler
issues first," he says. "When we have found out where we can
act, then we'll tackle the more difficult ones." Even for someone
claiming to be "very optimistic" about the role the commission
can play in
With reporting by Mageswary Ramakrishnan/Kuala Lumpur
Mental patient Thevarajah Suppiah was shot by the police while running away from them after releasing his 10-year-old hostage of four hours. Police could have captured Thevarajah as he was only armed with a pen knife, or could have just shot him in his leg to capture him alive and bring him before the court.
Memorandum prepared by the Police Watch and Human Rights Committee of Parti Reformasi Insan Malaysia (Prim)............... An average of 1.3 persons was shot dead by the police every week,
"The police took the law into their own hands ... they are paid by taxpayers' money and are properly trained to protect citizens, not to kill them," ........Rajah.
" the perception that Indians are marginalised and ignored by the mainstream development was false.
"I think it is a wrong perception. Since independence the government has contributed a lot for the well-being of Indians. We have never neglected the Indians," - Deputy Information Minister Khalid Yunus
"Indian concerns are real. A lot of people do not realise their (Indians') problems because they do not mix with them.
"The government is obliged to pay attention to the Malays. They always get priority. The Chinese help themselves. In the case of Indians, they are lost," -Khoo Kay Kim, professor at University Malaya
"Ethnic Indians should resort to self-help rather than seek assistance from the government. There is no point saying the government should do this and that,"
- Ramon Navaratnam, corporate advisor to construction giant SungaiWay Group and Malaysian Human Rights Commissioner .
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