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Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Petaling Jaya,  Thursday): DAP calls on Indian Government to rescind its decision to withdraw the Indian team from the Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament especially at a time when Asian countries should demonstrate their solidarity in the face of the unjust and illegal US-led unilateral war against Iraq

An hour before midnight last night, the Home Ministry through Bernama issued a statement admitting police "shortcomings" in the Palm Court Incident where Indian IT professionals were roughed up in the police operations in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur on 9th March, 2003 and promised investigation and disciplinary action against police officers who failed to abide by procedures during the inspection of foreign workers.

In the statement, the Home Ministry Secretary-General Datuk Seri Aseh Che Mat said "the police apologized over this matter" and "the Home Ministry expresses deep regret over the inconvenience experience by those detained".

While I commend the Home Ministry for making a serious attempt to address the Palm Court Incident which had plunged Malaysia-India relations to an all-time low, I do not find it completely satisfactory as its grudging admission of "shortcomings" appeared to be prompted more by pressures emanating from the escalating Malaysia-India diplomatic row than a genuine commitment to clean up systemic police abuses in the country.

The Home Ministry should not just be apologizing for the "inconvenience experienced by those detained" but for the gross human rights violations and the humiliations suffered by the Indian IT professionals in the Palm Court incident.

Aseh said that from the " thorough investigation" by the police into the Palm Court Incident, only 36 people had been handcuffed and "there were no incidents of physical abuse against those detained". This is an increase from the earlier admission that only 12 Indian IT professionals had been handcuffed after an "initial investigation" by the police as announced by the Kuala Lumpur city deputy chief Datuk Ahmad Bahrin Idrus last Tuesday, when he denied any police mistreatment in the Palm Court Incident.

The "thorough investigation" of the police is as suspect as its "initial investigation" as from my personal interviews with the Indian IT professionals, it is clear that more than 36 of them had been handcuffed as the police ran out of handcuffs and the other Indian IT professionals were hand-tied with other restraining bands.
The claim that "there were no incidents of physical abuse against those detained" could be easily proven false if all the Indian IT professionals mistreated in the Palm Court incident had been called to give individual testimony - which had not been done and is the Achilles heel of the so-called "thorough investigation" by the police.

Aseh's statement that "the failure of the police to take along the identification document verification equipment (ultra-violet light) resulted in the inspection of the documents having to be conducted manually and this resulted in the defacing of several of the professional visit passes" is unacceptable as from earlier reports, it is clear that the police in Brickfields did not have any ultra-violet light document verification equipment, and that the defacement of the visa passes was not accidental but willful and gross abuse of power. As Ahmad Bahrin as good as admitted last Tuesday, it was the immigration officials who went with their ultra-violet light equipment to the Brickfields police station after some 10 hours of the police mistreatment to certify that the visas of the Indian IT professionals were genuine and valid and not fakes.

However, I welcome the Home Ministry's acceptance of the DAP proposal to send an immigration team to Palm Court to replace the defaced visas, and hoped that our futher proposal that the Immigration waive the RM90 visa renewal fee, or that the Police pay for them, would also be accepted as the IT professionals should not be penalized for the willful police defacement of their visas.

Although I am not completely satisfied with the measures which had been taken by the authorities on the deplorable Palm Court Incident so far, a new start has been made since the intervention of the Acting Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi last Friday, expressing regret over the incident and injecting a proper seriousness and sensitivity into Ministerial and government responses.

DAP has been very concerned by the escalation of the diplomatic row between Malaysia and India, the latest being the last-minute pull-out of India from the Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, as well as talk of other Indian retaliatory measures, including reviewing the landing rights of Malaysia Airlines and preferential tariffs on the imports of palm oil from Malaysia.

As it is impossible to completely undo what has happened in the deplorable Palm Court Incident, DAP calls on the Indian Government to take positive steps to restore the impaired Malaysia-India relations, starting with the rescission of the Indian Government decision to withdraw the Indian team from the Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament especially at a time when Asian countries should demonstrate their solidarity in the face of the unjust and illegal US-led unilateral war against Iraq

The Malaysian Government on its part should ensure that it would live up to its international commitments by following up with a third but truly thorough-going investigation into the Palm Court incident, whose report should be made public together with the actions which had been taken against the police officers found guilty of abuses of power in the mistreatment of the Indian IT professionals.

There are many lessons to be learnt by the Malaysian authorities from the Palm Court Incident apart from addressing the systemic problem of abuses of power by the police.

Abdullah should also impress on the police the seriousness of the Palm Court Incident, not only to the police's own national and international image and credibility, but to the country's economic well-being as well.

The police should be made to understand that their actions, like the gross abuses of power in the Palm Court incident, can cause enormous economic damage to the country to the cost of millions or even tens of millions of ringgit in undermining national economic recovery efforts to promote tourism, attract foreign investments and achieve national IT plans to position Malaysia at the cutting edge of information and communications revolution so that we can remain internationally competitive.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman