Police Abuse of Power and Violence

demo SUARAM reports that human rights groups concerned with increasing instances of police abuse of power have called for an independent institution to investigate alleged police misconduct and instances of such shootings. Different communities have reported many instances of abuse of power by police personnel. These abuses have occurred in the context of the disputes of these communities with various parties.

For urban settlers, these are usually disputes with developers over long-term occupation of land. For indigenous peoples, these are usually disputes either with developers or with logging companies encroaching on their native customary land. For estate workers, such disputes would be with the estate management. The experience of these communities as reported below is that the police do not play a neutral role in ensuring peace and public order.

According to the incidents as reported, the police personnel have tended to use their powers unlawfully and taken on a partisan role in favoring the developers, logging companies or estate management. Below are some instances of such abuse reported by SUARAM.

  • Cases involving Indigenous Peoples
There have been numerous incidents of alleged police abuse involving indigenous communities in Sarawak. One of these cases on 9 February 1996 and 29 January 1998 involved the Penan from Long Lamai in the Ulu Baram area in their dispute with loggers.

A second incident involved Police Field Force personnel and the Penan in Long Sepigen, Serunggoh, Ulu Baram.

A third incident involved Iban natives at Sungai Nat, Tinjar Baram on 29 March 1996.

As a result of these incidents and the continuing encroachment into native customary land, a delegation of leaders of indigenous peoples came to Kuala Lumpur in August 1996 to highlight the land problem and to call for the withdrawal of the police field force from those areas.
Forced Eviction

Squatter communities that increasingly face forced evictions make up between 15-25 percent of the population of the biggest cities in Malaysia. There are approximately 423,000 people residing in settlements in the Klang Valley. (Malaysia National Report 1996: 15)

Most of the land they occupied belonged to the government, but there were owned by private individuals or companies. The squatters formed local branches of the ruling parties, and were protected by these parties and provided with facilities like water, electricity, health and education. The provision of amenities and promises of future ownership of the land were regular inducements used by the ruling parties during election time.

With the rising pace of development in the last 10 years, the price of land in urban areas has increased rapidly. More land was needed in and around the major cities for these development. Some government land occupied by the squatters were sold to private developers, and moves to clear squatter areas became more active. The Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the Selangor state government have committed themselves to clear the existing squatter settlements by the year 2002.

There are three main laws under which eviction can be carried out, namely:
1. National Land Code of 1965
2. Essential (Clearance of Squatters) Regulation of 1969; and
3. Land Acquisition Act of 1961 (Amendment)
Favouring the landowner, these land laws and civil procedures provide for forced evictions without any conditions of compensation or alternative housing.

Before eviction takes place, the squatters are normally served with notices, sometimes up to three times. But there are cases when squatters have been evicted after only one or even without any notice. Many communities facing eviction try to get court injunctions but in a number of instances, it is known that enforcement officers have proceeded with the eviction work. Several processes including persuasion, threats, payment and forced eviction usually take place after developers or the authority have issued notice and obtained court order for eviction of squatters.

Squatters continue to face serious problems. Growing numbers are forcibly evicted or provided with inadequate compensation. When promised alternative housing, many suffer in waiting for years before they are resettled.

Source: Human Rights Solidarity, Vol. 8, No.2, February 1998, and Suaram,1998.

  • Cases involving urban settlers, Kampung Chekkadi, Buntong, Perak
On the morning of 10 March 1996, the residents of Kampung (Kg) Chekkadi, a large settler community in Buntong, Ipoh proceeded peacefully to the Buntong Police Station to lodge a police report regarding an attempt by a contractor to demolish a few houses the previous week. The residents of Kg. Chekkadi have been staying there for 40 to 60 years. They had been promised several times by the authorities in the past 14 years verbally and in writing that they would be given land lots in Buntong.

Despite these assurances from the authorities, a bulldozer arrived on 29 February 1996 and would have demolished a few houses if not for the timely intervention of the residents' Land Committee. Some 160 residents decided to lodge police reports concerning their land problems to forestall any other attempts to evict them without warning. Ten committee members went into the station building while the rest remained outside the station compound as requested by the police officer on duty.

The upshot: police arrested seven of them. The crowd of about 1,000 decided not to disperse until all the seven arrested (six men and a woman) were released. However, after the residents were assured by the State Assemblyman and several committee members that the seven would be released on police bail after their statements were recorded, they began to disperse peacefully.

Despite this, around 35 to 40 FRU personnel charged into the crowd without any warning. At least 15 people were hit or kicked by the FRU in the fracas. One old man had an epileptic fit after being hit on the head. A young man had lip lacerations and a torn eardrum after being assaulted by the FRU (See Aliran Monthly 1996: 16(3) for a detailed account). In the incident, 166 persons were arrested and released on police bail under section 90 of the Police Act allegedly for unruly behavior at the police station.

  • Extrajudicial Killings
On 26 March 1998, riot police conducted a mass deportation of Indonesian illegal alien detainees. At the Semenyih detention camp, detainees from the Indonesian province of Aceh violently resisted deportation and killed a police officer in the ensuing struggle. After the death of the police officer, police responded with force and killed an unknown number of detainees (Police stated that 8 detainees died, while NGOs and the Western press reported that the number of dead was at least 24).

A leaked police photograph that appeared in the Western press showed that some of the dead persons were handcuffed. It is not known when the handcuffs were placed on these persons. Press reports from Indonesia indicated that a large number of Acehnese injured during the rioting in Malaysian detention camps, including some with gunshot wounds or injuries from severe beatings, did not receive medical care before their deportation.

Police have denied any misconduct and are not investigating officers' actions during the riot. (The police did investigate the leak to the Western press of the photograph showing handcuffed victims, and prosecuted the police photographer responsible.) After the violence, the Deputy Home Affairs Minister stated that security personnel would no longer treat illegal aliens "softly" (Various newspaper reports.)

Restrictions on Freedom of Movement

Jok Jau, an indigenous peoples community leader, was prevented from leaving for Peru and his passport was withheld at the Kuching international airport in August 1993. Subsequently, he was informed that his passport had been withdrawn by a decision of the Minister of Home Affairs. A court challenge by Jok Jau in the High Court failed in January 1996. Sarawak Immigration Department Director Rambli Adros Yahya in his affidavit said that Jok Jau's passport was withdrawn due to his active involvement in anti-logging activities and participation in an international forum which accused the Malaysian government of destroying its forests indiscriminately; he had asked the forum to boycott Malaysia's timber and tropical wood products (Borneo Post 28 December 1995). Jok Jau has filed an appeal.

In July 1994, Cecil Rajendra, a lawyer and poet active in public interest legal work, was prevented from leaving the country to attend a reading tour in the United Kingdom on the basis of national security and alleged involvement in "anti-logging activities". His passport was returned to him after a world-wide campaign which included President Nelson Mandela of South Africa writing a letter of support for him.

Wong Meng Chuo, active on the issue of the indigenous peoples' land rights in Sarawak, applied to renew his passport on 20 May 1995. Instead of renewing his passport, the immigration office in Sibu detained it. He has been unable to travel out of the country to date.

In 1995, a foreign academic, Weilou Wang, was denied entry into Sarawak twice. Sources believe that Weilou Wang, a lecturer of Dormund University, Germany was denied entry because of his critical views of the Bakun Dam project. Several committee members of the NGO Coalition Against the Bakun Dam project have likewise been denied entry into Sarawak.

In August 1996, authorities rejected the application of Gara Jalong, an indigenous person from Long Geng, Belaga Sarawak, to renew his passport which expired on 5 July 1996. Gara had been involved in campaigns against logging encroachment on native customary land. No reason was given for the refusal to renew his passport. Prior to this, Gara had also been stopped from leaving Malaysia to attend the Asian Conference on the Rights of Indigenous/Tribal Peoples in Thailand in 1993.

Jannie Lasimbang, an indigenous woman from Sabah, arrived in Miri on the night of 8 December 1996 to attend an indigenous peoples workshop. She was not allowed to stay and had to take the next flight to Sabah the following morning.

In December 1997, the Sabah State government ordered the expulsion of a West Malaysian lawyer Sugumar Balakrishnan, who had been practising in Sabah for about twenty years and who had been involved in a number of suits against the Sabah State Government. His challenge of the expulsion in the Sabah High Court failed. He has since appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

Suaram, 1999: 56-57