WE PROTEST HARRASSMENT OF LAWYERS BY POLICE
- Brave Lawyers Acted As Bar Leadership Procrastinates -
On 16th April 2000, a lawyer was forcibly pushed away from his client, angrily shouted at by Police Officers at the Petaling Jaya Police District Headquarters and then told he was going to be charged with obstruction of public servant in the course of his duties. He was there to protect his client in the execution of his duty. Instead he was thoroughly intimidated, pushed around and accused of a criminal offence and arrested.
On 18th April 2000, a group of about 15 young lawyers were there at the Ibu Pejabat Daerah Petaling Jaya to hand over a memorandum of protest, which was signed by 107 lawyers, to the Officer in Charge of the Police District(OCPD) of Petaling Jaya. That action was initiated by then young lawyers, N. Surendran and Charles Hector, who collected signatures from lawyers that Tuesday morning at the courts in Jalan Raja and Wisma Denmark and the memorandum of protest was handed over that very afternoon.
Then only did the Bar Council respond by sending a delegation to meet up with the Deputy Inspector General of Police on Thursday 20th April 2000, and thereafter, a press statement entitled “Arrest of lawyer in P.J. Police Station” was issued on the same day by the then President, Haji Sulaiman Abdullah.
All this happened 6 years ago, coincidently also in mid-April and at the same Petaling Jaya Police District Headquarters and the lawyer concerned then was Cheah Kah Peng.
27th April 2006 - Petaling Jaya Police District Headquarters
On Thursday, 27th April 2006, lawyers were back again at the Petaling Jaya Police District Headquarters handing over yet another memorandum of protest about police officers wrongfully harassing, arresting and detaining a lawyer on 18th April 2006 who was there at this police station representing and performing his duties as a lawyer for his clients.
On 18th April, lawyer S.Balasubramaniam, was at this PJ Police Headquarters in order to render legal assistance to his clients who had been detained by police. Despite repeated requests, the police refused to give him relevant information about, amongst others, the reason for the arrests and the status of his clients. Balasubramaniam was physically pushed and then unlawfully arrested by a plainclothes policeman. After being detained without reasons being given for his arrest, he was released after about 3 hours. On 19th April, he subsequently lodged a police report (PJ/004538/06) with regard the mistreatment by the police.
At about 12.00pm on the 27th, about 40 lawyers gathered at the PJ Police Headquarters to hand over a memorandum of protest which was supported by 112 lawyers to the OCPD.
Disappointingly, Mohd Hazam Abd Halim, the district police chief, refused to come down from his office and receive the protest memorandum, which finally was received by a Division Head, representing the OCPD. Mr George Varughese, the Selangor Bar Chairman and member of the Bar Council, handed over the memorandum of protest on behalf of the lawyers.
The members of the press were unreasonably stopped at the gate and prevented from even entering the compound of the PJ Police Headquarters. The lawyers protested this denial of access to a police station, which must and should always be open and accessible to any person but the police refused to budge and the media were forced to cover the event from outside the main gate.
The presence of a small team of riot-police, armed with their shields, protective helmets and batons was too much when it was only a group of lawyers, also officers of the court, who were there to peacefully protest what happened to one of their own and to hand over a protest memorandum.
Amongst the lawyers present were Sharmini Thiruchelvam, Francis Pereira, Shanmugam, N Surendran and some others were also there in April 2000. Young lawyer leaders, Will Fung and Richard Wee, Selangor Bar Committee Chairman, another member of the Bar Council, several former Bar Council members and senior lawyer, Chew Swee Yoke were also amongst the 40 who took the time and effort to be present at this protest. Sadly, the Chairman and the members of the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee were noticeably absent at this protest involving what happened to a Kuala Lumpur lawyer.
Failed to take “…immediate action by making its stand or position openly and clearly”
Despite being notified of what transpired to Bala, and being faxed the relevant police report on or about 19th April, the slowness of the Bar Council and the Kuala Lumpur Bar to respond is appalling. Again, in 2006 lawyers have reacted and responded strongly before their own elected leaders in an incident about the harassment and wrongful treatment of a lawyer carrying out his professional duties as an advocate and solicitor.
The importance of a quick and strong response by the Bar have been repeatedly raised by the membership at General Meetings of the Bar, including the last one in October 2005.
For the record, at the Extraordinary General Meeting of the Malaysian Bar held at the Renaissance Hotel, Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, 10 October 1998, Motion 4 (which interestingly was seconded by the same Bala Subramaniam) in item 1 of the said proposed Resolution read as follows “…The Bar Council, whenever such arrests and detention take place be it under any laws that are in connection with the said lawyer’s brief … [should] takes immediate action by making its stand or position openly and clearly that it is perturbed and opposed of such actions of the police or other authorities, by the issuance of a media statement and by whatever other means deemed appropriate.” Although this motion was not voted upon, it was agreed that the “…motion be treated as sentiments of the House”.
In 2000, in 4 days the Bar Council did make an official representation to the Inspector General of Police and cause the issuance of a media statement.
In 2006, despite being informed of the incident and having received a copy of the relevant police report of the affected lawyer on 19th April, both the Bar Council and the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee is yet to make any protest to the IGP or the authorities, let alone issue any media statement stating “…openly and clearly that it is perturbed and opposed of such actions of the police or other authorities”.
The State Bar Committee cannot and should not abdicate their duty by giving reasons like the matter was already within the notice of the Bar Council, and as such it is best that it is the Bar Council rather than the State Bar Committee that makes an open and clear protest. All the more reason for members of the Bar to vote wisely and choose leaders who will ACT without fear and favour rather than repeatedly year after year voting in the same persons with well-known names with a pleasant smile.
Without Fear or Favour they acted ..
The 40 lawyers who turned up at the police station on the 26th, and the 112 who supported the memorandum of protested must be applauded for their action in upholding the cause of justice without fear and favour.
They did the legal profession proud when they courageously stood firm in the face of police intimidation, displaying posters with words like “No Harassment of Lawyers By Police”, “Let Lawyers Do Their Job” and calling for the expedition of the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) as the media cameras clicked away and George Varughese handed over the memorandum.
Lawyers cannot and should not just wait for the leadership of the Bar to react and respond when injustices and human rights violation occurs. Lawyers have to also act independently and immediately if the leaders are dragging their foot in the name of “expediency”, red-tapes or just simply pure fear.
The duty of upholding the cause of justice and human rights is also on the shoulder of each and every lawyer in the land – and sometimes just passing on information is just not enough to discharge this onerous obligation to act.
The police tried to suppress the impact and the publicity of the protest by suggesting that a couple of representatives go up and pass the memorandum of protest to the OCPD behind closed doors in the absence of the press, but all 40 lawyers stood firm and insisted that they will hand over the memorandum of protest in public, in front of media and all lawyers present as witnesses, to the OCPD – and at the end of the day this was what was done.
No fear was shown as the 40 stood there in the open, being aware also that some of these photographers maybe police photographers. Bravo my fellow lawyers, and we hope that more of the 12,000 will be there the next time such when such public actions is needed.
What happened to Bala and Cheah Kah Peng has also happened to other lawyers including Leonard Teoh, P. Uthayakumar and the 2 others, as was highlighted at the last Malaysian Bar AGM. I believe that there may be other cases of police intimidation and harassment of lawyers when carrying out their duties, but this information has just not come to the notice of lawyers or the Bar.
It is now of utmost importance that there be an immediate, strong and open protest of all such cases of harassment of lawyers by the police or other government personnel as and when it happens. N. Surendran put it well when he was reported saying, “If a lawyer can be treated like (Bala), then no Malaysian citizen can be safe as lawyers would not be able to do their job,”. Let us not forget that our Federal Constitution guarantees and justice demands the immediate right to a lawyer to person arrested.
There Will Always Be Brave Lawyers…
The Bar Council must immediately, start working together with the State Bar Committees, to set up mechanisms to ensure immediate responses whenever this kind of cases, and also when any other cases of violations of human rights occurs. Members have been asking for this for a very long time now, and in 1998 this was made very clear but until this date, obviously we still do not have it.
But rest assured, there still is and will hopefully always be lawyers who will come forward in the interest of justice and human rights – even when the official leadership is procrastinating.
28th April 2006