Sitting in jail, waiting to be charged

IMAGINE being thrown in jail without being charged - just interrogated for weeks while being questioned about crimes you never committed and people you've never heard of. It doesn't sound pleasant, that's for sure!

Now what if I were to tell you this was happening right here, right now in Malaysia as part of the remand process? If anything, it's certainly an unpleasant truth.

This is something that was explained to me by a human rights lawyer, Shashi Devan.

Shashi gave me an example of how the police extended the remand way past what is allowed in the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) when I met him at the Suara Rakyat Malaysia offices in Petaling Jaya,

He used a hypothetical of a 17-year old Indian boy who was remanded for four days after being caught red-handed while stealing a pen.

"The boy will be kept in the lockup for four days for investigation purposes, and this is just the beginning. When they need to keep the arrested person longer they will look for unsolved cases. They just have to take out any unsolved case that says that the suspect is an Indian person around 15 - 20 years old," said Shashi.

He added that the police will say the case will have to be investigated.

"But it could be a case that is two or three years old. They will take that and apply for a fresh remand application under a new report. This is called the chain remand," said Shashi.

However, is this right? To answer my question, Shashi explained the relevant provisions of the CPC to me by first saying that under the law the remand process begins when the police are unable to complete an investigation within 24 hours of arresting a suspect.

"If an investigation cannot be completed within 24 hours and there are reasonable grounds to believe that a suspect has committed a crime, an application can be made by the investigating officer before a magistrate to extend the detention to continue the investigation," said Shashi.

He explained that when a remand order is sought, the police are asking for a certain number of days to complete the investigation.

Shashi then told me that if a person is being investigated for an offence that carries a jail sentence of less than 14 years, the first remand application can be for a maximum of four days and then the second remand application is capped at a maximum of three days.

In short, the police can hold a suspect for one week in cases like these.

However, this is different if the offence is punishable with a jail sentence that is longer than 14 years as a suspect can be held for two weeks.

In cases like this, the police can ask for seven days on their first application and then another seven days on the second extension.

Shashi then gave me another hypothetical example of how remand detention is being abused.

He also explained another technique used to stretch remand orders

"The other technique is to send the arrested person to another police station once the initial remand period expires. They will ask the second police station to investigate the arrested person for any of their unsolved cases. But that is not right, you shouldn't arrest first and investigate later for other offences," he said.

Shashi added that an accused person could be arrested for car theft but find themselves being charged for armed robbery with a gang.

He also explained to me the provisions for remand under the Prevention of Crime Act, which provides for two remand periods, the first being 21 days and the second 38 days, recounting a case he was handling with Suaram.

"People were held on remand for 80 days, and then a further 21 days under the Prevention of Crime Act. They were not given their right to a trial. Now, they are completing an additional 38-day remand period," said Shashi.

However, Shashi spoke of some hope of change as improvements were made when the National Legal Aid Foundation stepped in.

"There was an understanding between the police and the Foundation and remand procedures were taken a lot more seriously. It was a jolt in the system as police were previously getting the remand orders they wanted. Now, they had to justify the detention," said Shashi.

At this point he added a comment that struck me as being very fair, echoing the sentiments of those opposed to remand abuses.

"I am not against the police doing their job, I am not against the police investigating. I just want them to do it right, without abusing human rights," he added.

He has a point here. I'm not against the police doing their job, indeed I want them to solve crimes. I just don't want them to hold people for longer than they should, and I want them to complete their investigations in a timely manner in accordance with all legal provisions.

After all, wouldn't it be fair? It might be someone else today, but tomorrow it could be you or me!  

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opinion , In your Face , remand , jail


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