Can Malaysian police change?

July 20, 2012

Panellists at a forum say that the public, civil society and media can pressure PDRM to improve.
PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian police force can only change itself if there is strong political will and public pressure, according to panellists in a forum organised by an NGO recently.
Without external forces to push them, the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) would never be able to detach itself from its political masters. Internally, it is incapable of reforming itself , they said.
The forum, entitled “Malaysian Police – Is Change Possible?”, was organised by Suaram.
It featured human rights lawyer M Visvanathan, Suhakam commissioner Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah, Parti Sosialis Malaysia secretary-general P Arutchelvan and an Indonesian activist Papang Hidayat (from KontraS).
“The police are still very defensive, especially the highest-ranking police officers. I can see that when Suhakam holds training sessions with them,” said Muhammad Sha’ani.
He said there must be greater push by all parties, including the public and civil society, as Suhakam alone cannot shoulder all the responsibility for “changing the nation”.
“We must reform the police We must continue to educate them on human rights. We must dialogue more to change their way of thinking,” he added.
He said that the Royal Commission of Inquiry in 2005 which had recommended the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) had also recommended human rights to be one of the three top priorities of the police.
“But even after seven years, not much [has] changed,” he added.
Muhammad Sha’ani suggested that district officers should represent the people and liaise with the police so that the authorities are better informed of the situation on the ground.
“But sadly, the appointment of district officers is political, that’s the problem. They are full-time politicians more interested in licensing issues rather than security issues. How can they then represent the people from the grassroots?” he added.
Pressed by members from the floor on what Suhakam is doing to pressure the government to set up a IPCMC, Muhammad Sha’ani said that his commission was “looking into it”.
Pressure brought changes
Meanwhile, Arutchelvan said that it is hard for police to be independent as the top two positions of IGP and DIG are appointed by the prime minister.
“It is very direct, a political decision,” he said, adding that this makes the police in Malaysia instruction-oriented, instead of “investigation-oriented” and was focused on “instructions from the top”.
Arutchelvan said police now have a new kind of attitude called “police inaction”.
“Nowadays, incidents like the butt dance in front of S Ambiga’s house. They [police] did not act. When fight happens, they don’t arrive until it is over.
“Now people are fed up and are taking things into their own hands,” he said.
He said that whatever changes police made in the past, including changing their slogans, were merely cosmetic.
“They did not change the power structure. Have reforms really happened?” he asked.
“Yes, we’ve had some victories. Remand period was reduced from 14 to seven days. Now we don’t have Section 113 of the Criminal Procedure Act in which our police statement can be used in court. Now we also have the Public Assembly Act following Bersih.
“End of the day, all these changes came about because of a persistent struggle, protest, uprising. Because police, internally cannot reform, there must be political change,” he said.
However, Arutchelvan was optimistic about reforms happening, but he said it could only happen if we “dismantle the power structure and disarm the police”.
Papang agreed that change only happens after pressure is exerted, citing the examples in Indonesia.
“We now have NGOs engaging with the police. Asking us for ideas. We even meet with top policemen in coffee shops and discuss about change.
The media helped a lot in pushing the police for reforms,” he added.
Papang said that change depended on the political actors outside of the police

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