Friday, June 30, 2006

KL Bar: Police mock court order

Ng Eng Kiat
Jun 30, 06 6:38pm (Malaysiakini)

The Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee yesterday slammed the police for re-arresting detainees, who were being held without trial, after they were ordered to be released by the court.

The 13 detainees were detained under the Emergency Ordinance and were freed on a writ of habeas corpus by Kuala Lumpur High Court on Wednesday.

In the drama that unfolded at 6pm two days ago at Simpang Renggam, the 13 detainees - who were being transported on a bus from inside the detention centre to be set freed at the main gate - attempted to run away upon noticing that they would be re-arrested.

Five of the 13 got away after a fracas between the police who were waiting outside the centre and family members who tried to aid the detainees to escape.

The plain-cloth police officers, in the course of apprehending the freed detainees, allegedly injured elderly female family members who were there to welcome back their loved ones.
The KL Bar Committee, which represents lawyers in the Federal Territory, also ticked off the police for using excessive force against the family members of the detainees.

Malaysiakini has obtained a five-minute video footage of the incident depicting the unfolding drama, taken with a mobile phone.

No real basis for re-arrest

The New Straits Times today reported that Johor police chief Hussin Ismail claimed the police only intended to re-arrest eight of those being released, and that the five who “got away” were not on their list.

Criminal Practice Committee chairperson N Sivananthan, counsel for the detainees, claimed the police’s explanation only served to show there was no real basis for the re-arrest.

“What is really weird here is the police are now taking the stand that they never wanted to arrest the five in the first place. If this is the reason, why were the eight arrested then? What is so special about the (other) five?” he said during a press conference yesterday.

Baljit Singh Sidhu, a lawyer for the detainees, added that one of those who escaped has identical offences with another who was re-arrested.

“They cannot say they intended to release the five and detain the other eight. First of all, there is no reason to detain anyone because there is a valid court order (for their release),” he said.

According to Baljit, all 13 who are held under the Emergency Ordinance (EO) - a law similar to the Internal Security Act - were suspected of committing petty crimes like theft and extortion.

“There is ordinary court process for these crimes, but they are held under the EO because the police lack of evidence to charge them,” he lamented.

Under the EO, detainees can be held without trial for two years and this can be extended indefinitely.

KL Bar Committee chairperson Lim Chee Wee expressed indignation with the incident and questioned the motive of the police in totally disregarding a release order granted by a court of law.

“There was no disclosure of the grounds of re-arrest. The only recourse for these detainees is a writ of habeas corpus, which is a constitutional right, and to repeat arrest renders such relief ineffective,” Lim said.

A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate to the authorities ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether the person is imprisoned lawfully and whether he should be released from custody.

Re-arrests increasingly a trend

Sivananthan expressed fear that if this practice of re-arresting ‘habeas corpus’ detainees becomes a trend, it would allow the police to abuse their powers.

“It is an easy way out - if I am a police officer, why bother? Put them under the EO, write down the charges and put them there as long as I like. When a lawyer comes along and the court grants a release order, I will re-arrest them,” he said.
Baljit was furious with the police of not informing the detainees’ families about the reasons of the re-arrest, and said the police had obviously taken the law into their own hands.

“The police were there (Simpang Renggam) since 3pm, and they waited for three hours before the detainees came out. Why didn’t they tell the family members ... about the need for re-arrest?” he said.

Baljit also claimed that the police have treated the court with contempt.

Lim concluded that this incident bolsters the Bar Council’s support for the setting up of the controversial Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.

“We are asking from the authorities details of all the detainees, the reasons why they are there (under EO), and historical records of how many of these detainees are on a second or third re-arrest,” he said.

“The police must be transparent about it and come out with proper guidelines as to the use of such draconian powers that bypass the ordinary court process.”

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