Police Misconduct and the Mainstream Media’s Response to it: Malaysia and India

By Malaysian Heart

While it makes compelling reading for anyone interested in human rights and justice, reading the report by Human Rights Watch as a Malaysian is heartbreaking; in so many ways it describes the trouble with our own PDRM in Malaysia. Some ‘highlights’ from the report:

The Indian Police Service practices arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and extrajudicial killings. They break the laws they are supposed to protect, and believe that unlawful methods, including illegal detention and torture, are necessary tactics of crime investigation and law enforcement. Therefore, they use “short-cuts” and their old methods – abuse and threats, hold suspects illegally and coerce them to confess, frequently using torture and ill-treatment. Sound familiar?

Here is an example from the report, how a fruit vendor in Varanasi described how police tortured him to extract confessions to multiple, unrelated false charges: :

“[M]y hands and legs were tied; a wooden stick was passed through my legs. They started beating me badly on the legs with lathis (batons) and kicking me. They were saying, ‘You must name all the members of the 13-person gang.’ They beat me until I was crying and shouting for help. When I was almost fainting, they stopped the beating. A constable said, ‘With this kind of a beating, a ghost would run away. Why won’t you tell me what I want to know?’ Then they turned me upside down… They poured water from a plastic jug into my mouth and nose, and I fainted.”

Underlying Causes
The Indian Police Service, hence it’s ethos, laws and regulations originated from the Imperial Police, the colonial-era police force whose primary objective was to help the British control and oppress the population with impunity, not protect their human rights. As the report states “[t]he institutional culture of police practically discourages officers from acting otherwise, failing to give them the resources, training, ethical environment and encouragement to develop professional police tactics”.

Colonial-era police laws enable state and local politicians to interfere routinely in police operations, sometimes directing police officers to drop investigations against people with political connections, including known criminals, and to harass or file false charges against political opponents.

Other contributing factors are overwhelming workloads, insufficient resources, abysmal conditions for police officers, lack of sufficient ethical and professional standards and appreciation of modern criminology. Overall, the report seems to identify the system rather than individual officers or commanders as the main underlying cause.

Other Similarities
In 2006, a landmark Indian Supreme Court judgment mandated the reform of police laws. But the central government and most state governments have either significantly or completely failed to implement the court’s order, suggesting that officials have yet to accept the urgency of comprehensive police reform, including the need to hold police accountable for human rights violations. Shades of our IPCMC?

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