Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Wednesday, 24.11.1982 on the Ministry of Home Affairs during the 1983 Budget Committee Stage debate the cut $10 from the allocations for the Malaysian police
Malaysian police must be trained differently where they do not fear crowds, and where in crowds controls, ‘accidental or panic shooting’ do not exist in the police dictionary
On 29th October 1982, a resident of Thean Teik Estate in Penang, Madam Tan Siew Lee, 33, was killed when shot in the neck by police in a scuffle between about 100 Thean Teik Estate residents and workers of the developers of Thean Teik Estate, Perumahan Farlim, who wanted to demolish the chicken coops of one of the residents. Another resident, Chuah Teow Huat, who was standing far off from the scene of the scuffle, was shot in the left hip by the police.
After the police shootings, the Police Chief Police Officer, SAC Haji Zaman Khan, told reporters that the shooting of both Madam Tan and Chuah by the police was ‘accidental’. The New Straits Times of 30th Oct. reported him as saying that a police constable was attacked by a man during the fight between about 100 residents and 30 workers. SAC Haji Zaman Khan said: “He fired three shots at the attacker. All the shot went wide. Unfortunately two of the shots it Tan and Chuan who were some distance from the constable.”
Parliament must take a most serious view of any ‘accidental’ or ‘panic’ shooting by the police when handling crowds leading to loss of lives or personal injuries, for the role of the police is to protect human lives and property, and not to become a threat to human lives and property by their propensity to shoot ‘accidentally’ or in ‘panic’.
This is why I am taking this serious step of proposing a $10 cut in the budget allocations for the police for next year, to highlight the need for a thorough review of the training of police to handle crowds without becoming a public threat themselves, the role of police in private property disputes, and the proper guidelines for the handling of cases of police shootings of the public so as to regain public confidence that the authorities do not condone such crimes committed by the police, or seek to sweep such incidents under the carpet.
Firstly, the police must be a neutral and impartial force whose role is to uphold law and order and to protect human lives and property. It must not under any circumstances take sides in any private property disputes, even if one of the parties to the dispute have notable personalities who have high political connections or great material wealth. This is where the Penang police had failed in the Thean Teik Estate dispute, where about 10,000 people who for generations had stayed and earned their livelihood through vegetable farming, pig and poultry rearing, faced eviction by the developer, Perumahan Farlim.
In the long-standing dispute between the Thean Teik residents and Perumahan Farlim, the police gave the residents more than enough cause to believe that the police was siding Perumahan Farlim, especially with the numerous incidents of police intervention on behalf of Perumahan Farlim, including the Oct. 23 incident where the police fired tear gas to stop the unarmed residents from protecting their properties from the Farlim workers. In actual fact, the developer, Perumahan Farlim, has no court order to empower it to move into individual Thean Teik Estate houses to forcibly evict the residents and to demolish the houses and coops.
The failure of the police to project its neutrality and impartiality in the private property dispute, and demonstrate that its role is to protect human lives and property, is probably one important reason why there is distrust among the Thean Teik residents about the police – that they have become the paws of the Perumahan Farlim to provide back-up support to the developers to demolish the Thean Teik houses and properties.
I come now to the second issue of the police shooting in Thean Teik Estate on that tragic day on Oct. 29. The police excuse of ‘accidental’ shooting is completely unacceptable, for there must be no room for ‘accidental’ shooting in any police crowd-control situation.
Something is very wrong with the police methods and techniques of training and recruitment, where the Malaysian police is prone to ‘accidental’ or ‘panic’ shooting. There were only 100 Thean Teik residents on that tragic day on Oct. 29. What happened if there had been 1,000 or 10,000 people? Would there had been a ‘massacre’ of the public by police who ‘panicked’ and go into an orgy of ‘accidental shooting’?
At there is so much talk about ‘Looking East’, it is pertinent to compare with the Japanese police handling of crowds or demonstrators sometimes running into tens of thousands of very militant demonstrators. Do the Japanese police indulge in ‘accidental’ shootings?
In fact, the essence of the strategy of the Japanese riot police is to minimize the danger of injury, gain the support of the public, and reduce the threat posed by the resisters. The Japanese police make use of their areas of discretion in such a way as to maintain public support. They tend to be slow in arresting people when there is not a high level of support for their behaviour.
In Malaysia, we seem to be doing quite the opposite, where police when faced with crowds or demonstrators, act in disregard of the need to minimize the danger of injury and treat public support and public opinion with contempt. When lawyers demonstrated against the Societies Amendment Bill last year, they were arrested and charged in court. But when the UMNO Youth, MCA Youth and MIC Youth leaders and their followers held a demonstration to protest against the seven international lawyers visiting Malaysia to study the human rights situation in the country, the police acted as the traffic wardens of the demonstrators. Even now, there is no attempt to respect public opinion by showing that the government would not apply double standards, by prosecuting lawyers for demonstrating against Societies Amendment Bill, but letting the UMNO Youth, MCA Youth and MIC Youth leaders and members going scot-free for holding a similar ‘illegal’ demonstration.
In reverting back to the Japanese riot police example, it is worth noting that in dealing with massive student demonstrations, for instance, and clearing an area, the riot police generally used huge shields, slowly pushing back the demonstrators blocking an area. Thus, the police have little worry of being hit by flying objects and do not need to respond precipitously out of fear. They systematically move those blocking access.
In Japan, because gun control is very tight, because police are well-trained in hand-to hand combat, because they amass overwhelming numbers when demonstrators assemble, and because they can count on public support, the police are less likely to attack a suspect or demonstrator out of fear.
In Malaysia, in contrast, although gun control is equally tight, the police seem to have a fear of the public, especially crowds, and because the police had never felt it important to have public support for its actions, there is a greater tendency for fear-response in crowd situations leading to panic reactions, like panic or accidental shootings.
In Malaysia, for instance, the police have become stranger to crowd situations. Public rallies have been banned for political reasons since 1978, and the only crowds the police experience are ‘timid’ crowds trotted out to receive and welcome Ministers.
The police must not be afraid of the people, but must promote that two-way respect and goodwill. The Thean Teik Estate ‘accidental’ police shooting highlights the need for a complete overhaul in the techniques and methods of police training, where police do not fear crowds and the people, and where in crowd handling or demonstrations, ‘accidental’ or ‘panic’ shootings do not exist in the police dictionary.
In fact, there is no cause for the police to be armed with lethal weapons on that Oct. 29. They should have water cannons, or should have used rubber bullets. This is why the incident showed that the whole philosophy of police training must be reviewed.
I therefore urge the police powers-that-be to review the entire police philosophy to ensure that their effectiveness is based on police self-discipline, greater police professionalism which allows no room for ‘panic or accidental shooting’, and concern for public support for police actions.
I come now to the third issue of the Thean Teik police shooting. At first, the Penang CPO announced that the Penang police would be conducting an inquiry into the shooting in Thean Teik Estate. This would have been treated with contempt by the public, for it tantamounts to the accused conducting his own investigation. Although subsequently the Police Headquarters at Bukit Aman took over the investigations, the suspicion among the public that there could be no impartial and thorough-going inquiry could not be ignored, for what is happening is that the police is playing the multiple roles of judge, prosecutor, defence and accused.
Why should the police be afraid of an impartial inquiry into the Thean Teik shooting, conducted by people who have nothing to do with the police. Such an inquiry could only lead to greater credibility for the police, than inquiries conducted by the police itself.
I call on the Minister of Home Affairs to consider drawing up a new guideline for inquiries into death or injuries caused by the police, whether accidentally or unaccidentally, which commands public confidence with regard to their impartiality, and this could only be done with such inquiries conducted by people who have nothing to do with police.
Secondly, where the police had accidentally shot and killed innocent members of the public, as the Penang CPO had admitted with regard to the killing of Madam Tan Siew Lee, the government must be prepared to immediately pay ex gratia compensation to the victims involved, and should not stand on formalities or ceremonies about legalities inhibiting such payments.
Is the government prepared to pay the family of Madam Tan Siew Lee ex gratia payment as compensation, without of course binding the government in any legal liability, as a sincere gesture on the government’s part as remorse for such uncalled for ‘accidental’ shooting?
I have raised this matter by way of a $10 cut on the appropriations for the police, not because I do not appreciate the important work of the police to maintain law, order and peace, but because where there are infractions by the upholders of law and order – namely, the police – they must be highlighted so that they could be corrected, and public confidence in the police enhanced.
Those who wish to distort the motives for what I am doing are fools and knaves, and I do not intend to spend any time on them, even where they do so after this speech of mine.