Concerns over watered-down police oversight bill

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TODAY, we – Amnesty International Malaysia, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: Global Alliance for Citizen Participation and Human Rights Watch – call on Malaysian lawmakers to reject the deeply flawed Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC) bill. and move quickly to introduce a bill establishing a truly independent police accountability mechanism capable of providing adequate police oversight.

The IPCC bill should be tabled for second reading during this parliamentary session. While there is little doubt that Malaysia is in desperate need of an independent oversight commission for the police, the IPCC bill, first tabled in August last year, further weakens the mechanism. already anemic control currently in place and should be rejected.

The bill fails to address widespread public concerns about police misconduct, continued abuse of power against government criticism, and deaths in custody. If passed, the bill would not promote, as the government claims, accountability, but rather protect the police from scrutiny and independent oversight.

Police abuse in Malaysia

Malaysia has a long history of police abuse, including excessive use of force, torture, ill-treatment, harassment and deaths in custody. Human rights violations committed by police officers have been documented by national and international civil society groups.

Police have also abused their power to restrict freedom of expression and assembly in Malaysia. The space for peaceful protests has shrunk considerably. Police personnel continue to harass those who criticize government officials and have arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters under the pretext of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aggressive enforcement of the 1948 Sedition Act, especially against government critics, is another frequently observed abuse of police power. Between January and August 2021, civil societies documented investigations under the Sedition Act initiated by the police in 17 cases involving a total of 37 people. The recent investigations of the organizers of the #Lawan protest under the sedition law are another disturbing example of police overrun to the detriment of human rights.

The Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 is also frequently used by police to censor human rights defenders, journalists, artists, political opponents and ordinary members of the public who have criticized police, government officials. or Malaysian royalty, or have shared opinions on issues deemed sensitive by the government, such as race and religion.

Police misconduct and violence

This year alone, we have seen several alarming deaths in custody. In January, former police volunteer reservist Mohd Afis Ahmad died of blunt head trauma just a day after his arrest. In another case in April, milk trader A. Ganapathy was admitted to the intensive care unit upon his release after 12 days in police custody, where he later died. Autopsy results revealed that he died of complications from injuries to his legs and shoulders, allegedly sustained while in police custody. In May, security guard S. Sivabalan died approximately 70 minutes after being arrested by police, allegedly of a heart attack. The investigations promised into each of the above cases appear to have made no progress.

Police misconduct is not limited to deaths in custody. Allegations of corruption, abuse of power and links with criminal elements have also been raised in recent years. In March of this year, we were alarmed by allegations by former Inspector General of Police Abdul Hamid Bador that there is a movement of corrupt young police officers or “cartels” within the police whose ambition is to dominate the police by allowing them to carry out “dirty work” for their own personal interests.

The former IGP’s allegations shocked the public and underscored how crucial it is to establish an independent body to investigate these allegations and to reform the police force. An independent and effective oversight commission will not solve all of these problems, but it is an important first step, given the lack of accountability within the police force in Malaysia.

Independent Police Conduct Commission

Despite these concerns, the bill tabled by the IPCC is not a step towards police accountability, but the opposite. The bill further weakens the limited police oversight provided by the current Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) system. Our main concerns with the bill are as follows:

  1. No search and seizure power. The CRNE, for all its weaknesses, has the power to conduct searches and seizures in its investigations of wrongdoing, including deaths in custody. The IPCC does not weaken the ability to conduct meaningful and effective investigations of police misconduct and, as such, it would weaken the capacity to conduct serious and effective investigations.
  2. Limited powers to require documents and no provision for hearings. Under the IPCC, documents or evidence can be withheld if they are found to be “prejudicial to national security or the national interest,” a loosely defined clause that is susceptible to abuse. Unlike the EAIC, the IPCC does not provide for a hearing. Hearings would allow commissioners to fully explore and consider complaints, ensure greater transparency for victims of abuse and their families, and educate the public and policymakers about police procedures and policies.
  3. Prior notice requirement for site visits. The IPCC commissioners cannot visit the police premises, door frames or places of detention without prior notice from the department head. The experience of Malaysia’s National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) shows that authorities can treat early notification requirements as authorization requirements, diluting the power of on-site visits.
  4. Limited investigative power. Even though the IPCC commissioners are able to conduct successful investigations despite the above limitations, their powers are limited to making recommendations to a relevant body such as the Police Force Commission, the Malaysian Anti-Criminal Commission. corruption or other competent authorities. Since recommendations from bodies such as EAIC and Suhakam have been consistently ignored, it is not unreasonable to expect the IPCC to face the same blue brick wall. The IPCC is also exempt from investigating any act provided for in the standing orders of the Inspector General (Articles 96 and 97 of the Police Act 1967). Standing orders generally govern matters such as the conduct of arrests, the treatment of detainees, and matters related to the authorized use of weapons, among others.
  5. The appointment process lacks independence and is unclear. Within the framework of the IPCC, as for the EAIC, the members of the commission will be appointed and dismissed by the king on the advice of the Prime Minister, calling into question the independence of the body. In addition, the appointed members may themselves be police officers. The director general of the commission is appointed by the Minister of the Interior, which further undermines the principle of independence and impartiality.

The need for an independent police oversight body

The idea of ​​an independent police oversight body was first proposed in 2005, as part of 125 recommendations made by the Royal Commission to improve the functioning and management of the Royal Malaysian Police. The commission was made up of prominent public figures, including a former IGP. Police forces also provided comments, as did the Association of Senior Retired Police Officers of Malaysia.

A key recommendation was the creation of an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to investigate police abuse and discipline those responsible. A bill was drafted as part of the report. Yet more than 16 years later, Malaysia appears to be moving further and further away from genuine police reform.

Police leaders have resisted independent scrutiny and the IPCMC has yet to be established, despite a vigorous and sustained campaign by civil society and human rights organizations. The previous government of Pakatan Harapan introduced a bill on the IPCMC in July 2019, although it was criticized by human rights groups for its inadequacy.

Malaysia needs an independent oversight body that is genuinely independent and impartial from the state and the police, in order to avoid conflicts of interest. To be effective, the oversight body must have real powers and responsibilities to investigate and take concrete action against police officers responsible for serious abuses. It is high time the Malaysian government treated the issue of deaths in custody and other police misconduct with the urgency it warrants. The families of those who died in police custody deserve answers and justice for their loved ones. Malaysians must be assured that these deaths will not continue to occur with impunity and that those who abuse their position of power and responsibility will be held to account.

Therefore, we urge the government to drop the IPCC bill and urgently table a bill establishing a truly independent oversight commission with sufficient powers to effectively investigate and take action against police misconduct. The rule of law applies to everyone, even the police. – October 27, 2021.

* This statement is endorsed by Amnesty International Malaysia, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS: Global Alliance for Citizen Participation and Human Rights Watch.

* This is the opinion of the author or post and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.


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