Police must be fully transparent and accountable for every arrest and detention
24 July 2017
Last week, Lawyers for Liberty received a flurry of telephone calls seeking assistance for family members who went ‘missing’ and incommunicado after they were allegedly arrested by the police from the Klang district, many of whom were in plain clothes. This led us to the Klang Selatan police station on 18 July to assist the family members to inquire about their whereabouts and details of their arrest and detention.
While we do not dispute the duty of the police to prevent crime and uphold law and order, we are however extremely concerned with the manner in which the police have affected these arrests i.e. without providing family members with sufficient basic information. When the family members inquired, they were often ignored, given the run-around or given imprecise information thus leaving them in the dark over the arrest of their loved ones.
What is the standard operating procedure (SOP) to inform detainees and family members when affecting arrest? Shouldn’t family members have a right to be informed of basic details like the grounds of arrests, place of detention, the police station and investigating officer in charge, and his or her contact number?
If a remand is obtained as is usually the norm, shouldn’t family members be informed of the remand extension or if they are require to post court or police bail? If the detainee is rearrested or detained further, or taken to other police stations for purported investigations of other alleged offences or worse, detained under security laws like the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (SOSMA) and Prevention of Crime Act (1959), shouldn’t family members be informed and be forwarded all the necessary police documents (under SOSMA and POCA) so that they can seek legal advice?
Surely the family members of those detained have legitimate grounds to be concerned – having seen the extraordinary number of deaths in police custody in recent years. How many more inquiries or reports must we have from the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) or the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) before the police take their own SOP seriously?
The distraught family members were left with no option but to lodge missing person and unlawful arrest reports as even with the assistance of lawyers, the police were unable to confirm if the ‘missing’ persons were in fact arrested by the police. After the furore created, on the next day, the police were then able to confirm that all 10 men from the 9 families who had lodged the reports were being held under SOSMA.
Questions must surely be asked on why these arrests have been shrouded with secrecy and why the police have been unable to provide the family members with the necessary information when there are clear procedures to notify the next of kin on any SOSMA arrests.
It is further disturbing to note that several family members were advised against engaging lawyers to represent those detained. This is unacceptable behaviour, as the right to legal counsel is a right guaranteed under the Federal Constitution and the law which the police have a duty to uphold.
We therefore call on the police to stop treating family members and lawyers like adversaries or impediment to their work. The police should instead comply with the law and their own SOP, be transparent and cooperative as they must be fully accountable for every arrest they make and the detainees under their care.
Lawyers for Liberty