Troubling rise in gangsterism

MIRI: Gangs of youths fighting each other in the streets armed with swords. Blood and body parts here and there, motionless bodies on the pavement – these are not just scenes from a Chinese kung fu movie.

They can be witnessed all over Sarawak, especially in Sibu.

These gory scenes are real-life episodes associated with gangsterism – a problem the state and police have found impossible to eradicate.

The issue has become so deep-rooted and complex that it can be described along the lines of diagnosing cancer.

Gangsters are no more just fighting each other on the streets. They have evolved into highly complex and organised networks involved in extortion, protection money collection, armed robberies, drug deals, sex trade, gambling, illegal logging and smuggling of vehicles and goods.

Like a cancer that multiplies, gangster groups in Sarawak grew from a few organisations in the 1960s to 17 major groups last year, and currently to bigger numbers in splinter groups.

Sarawak deputy CID director Asst Comm Hadeni Baseri, during a recent dialogue with politicians in Miri, said the police wanted to get rid of these criminals, but found that they kept coming back.

“We don’t want these people around, but those arrested and sent elsewhere sometimes end up in places like Miri,” he said.

Last May, Bukit Aman and the state police launched a massive anti-gangster operation called Ops Cantas Kenyalang and arrested more than 1,000 gang members.

Last month, 21 major armed robberies occurred in the state.

VIPs like Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan Hong Nam were among their victims.

Gangsters have started to establish a reign of terror in Miri, prompting Barisan Nasional backbenchers chairman Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing to voice his concerns.

There are two main reasons why gangsterism cannot be totally destroyed.

First, it's a crime that delivers fast money. Gangs profit from robbery, prostitution, gambling, car jacking, smuggling and extortion. Millions of ringgit are made through these ill-ridden activities.

Second, it's fear through intimidation. Gangsters target the innocent through extortion and threaten to harm their victims' family members if they fail to pay up.

Miri police chief Asst Comm Jamaluddin Ibrahim told The Star that the police will protect those who lodge reports and identify gangsters who threaten them.

However, fears run deep and many victims just pay and keep quiet.

Like cancer, gangsterism in Sarawak needs to be dealt with via radical means.

Arresting the gang members and small fries is not enough. It is like trying to kill the cancer by scraping the skin surface.

Like the cancer, the gangsters survive and multiply into greater numbers.

About seven years ago, the police shot dead about half a dozen wanted gang bosses in Miri, Sibu and Kuching. A few of them topped the police wanted list.

This drastic step instilled fear in the gangsters, forcing them to lay low for a few years.

Society is not suggesting that these shootings resume, but perhaps the state and police should use harsher laws against gang members.

Those who threaten victims should be prosecuted for attempted murder, not just intimidation.

Vicious armed gangsters should be dealt with using the Internal Security Act and the Penal Code. Those under the Restricted Residence Ordinance should perhaps be held for an extended period, not just two years.

Convicted criminal bosses should have all their assets frozen and confiscated, plus those of their wives and children, and their business licences be revoked if they are running big-time entities.

It is time to show no mercy for gangsters, especially the bosses.

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