Miri lock-up rape: Was it incompetence, deliberate or corruption?

By Mariam Mokhtar

WHEN we read newspaper reports about deaths, alleged suicides, beatings or rapes in police or MACC custody, we are filled with rage at the following pathetic excuses:

  • The video recorder had no tape.
  • The CCTV had been removed for maintenance.
  • The CCTV was pointing in the wrong direction.
  • In some locations in northern Perak, bird droppings covered the CCTVs.

Last week’s newspaper report about the rape of an underage girl in the Miri police station is the latest tale of police incompetence and irresponsibility. PDRM failed to protect the public. It allegedly facilitated a despicable crime under its roof.

Both the 16-year-old and her rapist were in police custody at the Miri central police station in Sarawak. She had been picked up from work, the day before, for her alleged involvement in illegal gambling activities.

Doesn’t Malaysia have a young offenders detention centre where juveniles can be separated from hardened criminals?

Although her cell was locked and separate from the cell holding around 12 male detainees, she alleged that the cell holding the males was unlocked.

Sarawak police commissioner, Aidi Ismail, has ordered an internal investigation into the CCTVs at the Miri police station, which he admitted could not record and had to be monitored by personnel on duty.

Is that it?

The police appear to react to a situation. Don’t they learn from the mistakes of other policemen?

In 2015, during a hearing into the death of N Dharmendran, whose violent murder in police custody in May 2013 had shocked the nation, we were told that the CCTV was turned off to “give way” for the construction of a new district police headquarters building on Jalan Hang Tuah in the capital in 2009. The cameras were only enabled in 2014. Autopsy reports showed that Dharmendran’s ear lobes had been stapled.

Most Malaysians would not be satisfied with PDRM’s lame excuses.

In 2016, after several deaths in police custody, the PDRM Management Department director, Zulkifli Abdullah, announced that they would install high technology CCTVs in 58 police lock-ups. The cameras would record images and its alarm system would alert the policemen on duty if suspicious movements were detected.

Zulkifli claimed that CCTV cameras would monitor suicide attempts, escape attempts, sexual assaults, outsider attacks as well as the behaviour of police personnel.

Ironically, he said, the CCTVs would ensure “minimum needs for lock-up officers to make rounds”.

This dependence on technology for minimal effort is an invitation for disaster. Zulkifli assumes that all policemen are conscientious and honest.

A year later, 44-year-old S Balamurugan died in custody at the Bandar Baru Klang police lock-up.

Incredibly, the police at the time explained that all four CCTVs in the station were dummies and their function was to “warn officers that they were being watched” to deter theft because a few policemen were alleged to have stolen things.

It was claimed that without evidence from the CCTVs, Balamurugan’s death was difficult to investigate.

In 2017, a lance corporal on duty at the Pinggiran USJ police station in Selangor died from a gunshot wound caused by his own pistol and slash wounds to his head.

A week later, the then erstwhile deputy home minister, Nur Jazlan Mohamed, said that the main cause of faulty CCTVs on the inside and outside of police stations throughout Malaysia was budget constraints. Nur Jazlan claimed that his ministry was aware of the problem.

Incriminating activities

Being aware and doing something about it are two different things.

In September 2019, then Pakatan Harapan’s de facto law minister, the late Liew Vui Keong, announced an allocation of RM73 million to enable all police lock-ups in Malaysia to be equipped with CCTVs.

Was this ever carried out? Perhaps this CCTV allocation has yet to reach Sarawak. It could have prevented the rape of a minor.

It is futile to allocate millions of ringgit for surveillance cameras. The CCTVs did not help Teoh Beng Hock, Ahmad Sarbani, A Kugan, or any of the other people who died while they were detained in police or MACC premises.

The CCTV of a private house recorded the moment Raymond Koh was bundled into a black SUV. Despite Malaysia being awash with surveillance cameras at every intersection, we have not been told where the convoy which abducted Koh went.

Instead of CCTVs aiding enforcement and solving crime, these cameras heap scorn and ridicule on the PDRM. They have tarnished the image and integrity of the police. We are given excuses and nobody is punished.

Perhaps malfunctioning CCTVs are a deliberate act to hide incriminating activities of dirty, violent cops who beat up detainees till they are senseless and die. In at least one incident, a policeman allegedly bribed a group of detainees to beat-up another detainee, who subsequently died.

Perhaps, a crony company aided by crooked politicians installed the CCTVs and the taxpayer is paying for millions of ringgit worth of faulty equipment.

The rakyat is fed-up with the inspector-general of police’s excuses and public confidence in the PDRM is at rock bottom.

Incidents of this type have been happening for years. Despite the promises of successive IGPs, will things ever change?

Mariam Mokhtar is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

This article first appeared in Malaysiakini