The Centre for Independent Journalism is a non-profit organisation promoting media independence and freedom of expression in Malaysia.
We, the undersigned organisations, condemn outgoing Gombak police chief Arifai Tarawe’s threat to sue media outlet Free Malaysia Today over two articles it published about his transfer to the integrity unit at the federal police headquarters in Bukit Aman. This follows an earlier police investigation into three Malaysiakini journalists for its coverage of a related story about a man who allegedly died as a result of being beaten while in custody of Gombak police.
Free Malaysia Today, in reporting the transfer, had included background information on the public criticism Arifai received following the death of A Ganapathy, a 40-year-old milk trader who was allegedly beaten while in police custody in Gombak. Ganapathy succumbed to his injuries over a month following his release by the police. His family has alleged he was beaten in custody and suffered severe injuries to his arms, legs and shoulders. He died on 18 April in the ICU at Selayang Hospital. On 30 April, Arifai had warned the public not to comment on Ganapathy’s death or “they would be prosecuted by law”, adding that investigations into the case are ongoing.
Arifai’s lawsuit threat is not the first attempt by the police to prevent public scrutiny over the death of Ganapathy. On 18 May, two Malaysiakini journalists were questioned (another was unable to attend due to COVID-19 quarantine) over three reports on Ganapathy’s case. The journalists are being investigated under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code, which penalises those who make remarks “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity.”
It is unacceptable for the police to harass and threaten journalists and media organisations for fulfilling their responsibility to report on matters of public importance. The public also has the right to comment on and discuss issues such as deaths in police custody, which continue to happen with alarming frequency. Human rights organisation Suaram has documented at least eight cases in 2020, with at least 104 people having died in custody from 2011 to 2018.
These threats of lawsuits and investigations by the police are an attack on media freedom and a violation of the freedom of expression guaranteed under the Federal Constitution. Victims, families, and the public deserve answers and justice. Efforts by the authorities to suppress the truth reflects a pattern of police violence, lack of accountability, and resistance to reform measures such as the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
We call on the authorities to immediately cease their investigation and harassment of journalists and media networks in the country, and urge them to respect, protect and fulfil the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. Instead of going after reporters who are doing their job or threatening members of the public rightfully concerned about yet another death in police custody, we urge the police to focus on its investigations into Ganapathy’s death and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
A Ganapathy was arrested on 24 February to assist police investigations into his brother.
On March 8, the family received a call from the police informing them that Ganapathy had been released and was admitted to the Selayang Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
On March 11, Ganapathy’s mother S Thanaletchumy lodged a police report claiming her son had been beaten while in custody, resulting in the amputation of a leg. She claimed her son had told her that he was beaten with a rubber hose by the police. Ganapathy died at the hospital on April 18.
On 21 May, another individual died while under custody of the Gombak police district headquarters. Sivabalan, 42, was arrested at 11.45 am but died less than an hour later.
1. Amnesty International Malaysia
2. Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
3. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation*
4. Demokrat Kebangsaan
6. GERAMM (Gerakan Media Merdeka)*
7. Justice For Sisters
8. KRYSS Network*
9. Lawyer Kamek for Change (LK4C)
10. YB Maria Chin*
11. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
12. PLUHO, People Like Us Hang Out!
13. Sisters In Islam (SIS)
14. SUARAM (Suara Rakyat Malaysia)
15. Sustainable Development Network Malaysia
17. William Ak Mangor*
*Additional endorsements after the statement was issued.