Recording police raid not a crime, Malaysian Bar says of student activist’s arrest

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran said student activist Wong Yan Ke’s act of making a video recording of a police raid is not a crime. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir Bhaskaran said student activist Wong Yan Ke’s act of making a video recording of a police raid is not a crime. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 9 — Student activist Wong Yan Ke’s act of making a video recording of a police raid is not a crime, the Malaysian Bar has said following his Saturday arrest by the police.

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir expressed the concern of the professional body — which represents lawyers in peninsula Malaysia — over the turn of events, namely Wong’s arrest by the police for alleged obstruction of the duties of public servants and the reported seizure of his mobile phone after he was said to have ignored a warning issued by the police to not continue recording.

“We take the stance that there is no offence in recording the police conducting a raid.

“As long as the police officers are carrying out their duties in accordance with the law, there is no cause for concern for them to prevent the recording,” Salim said in a statement yesterday.

Salim highlighted that law enforcement officers in other countries such as the US and the UK use body cameras or dashboard cameras to record their interactions with the public while carrying out their duties, in order to prevent misconduct by the police.

“Even in Malaysia, the Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador, had commented on September 19, 2019 that the use of body cameras on law enforcement officers will prevent abuse and ensure transparency in the police force,” he said.

Noting that Wong was reportedly arrested for the offence of obstructing the duties of public servants under Section 186 of the Penal Code, Salim, however, said just the mere act of recording a raid or an arrest could not be considered as amounting to a crime.

“The Malaysian Bar views that a video recording of a raid or an arrest without any overt act that invokes violence, cannot and should not, be construed as an aggressive or menacing action that would give rise to an offence under section 186 of the Penal Code. 

“While we understand that each case should be judged by its facts and its merits, nothing in the reporting suggests that Wong’s actions invoked violence that could be deemed to be obstructive to the duties of the police officers during the time of the raid,” he said in the same statement.

Highlighting the police’s crucial role in improving safety and increasing public confidence, Salim said the Malaysian Bar urges the police to “exercise their statutory discretion proportionately and reasonably in any and all given situations”.

Under Section 186, it is an offence to voluntarily obstruct any public servant in the discharge of his public functions, with the penalty being a maximum two-year jail term or a maximum RM10,000 fine or both.

Student activist Wong Yan Ke speaks during a press conference outside University of Malaya’s examination hall in Kuala Lumpur October 19, 2019. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Student activist Wong Yan Ke speaks during a press conference outside University of Malaya’s examination hall in Kuala Lumpur October 19, 2019. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

In a statement dated yesterday, Wong — who is a Universiti Malaya graduate and former president of University of Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany) — had outlined the chronology of events that led to his arrest, starting from his receiving of a message on November 7 afternoon from his Umany successor Yap Wen Qing of a group of unidentified persons in plain clothes intending to force their way into Yap’s house.

Wong said he had gone with a lawyer to Yap’s house to provide support and that he had proceeded to record the raid on video which was also streamed ‘live’ on Facebook, as he could not confirm the identities of the group that claimed to be policemen at that time, and as a precaution against vigilante action amid harassment and intimidation of Umany members.

Wong said that he was pushed to the wall by three men and handcuffed after he had recorded the video for about two and a half minutes, and that he then gave his statement to the police while being handcuffed.

Wong said he was then held overnight and questioned the next day for about an hour from 11.30am. He was reportedly released on police bail.

In his statement, Wong has denied obstructing police duties either physically or verbally and said he was unarmed and did not cause any threat to the police, noting that he was merely recording a video.

Yesterday, Selangor Criminal Investigation Department chief Datuk Fadzil Ahmat reportedly confirmed the arrest of a 24-year-old on the suspicion of obstructing police duties by using his mobile phone to record a raid on a house in Petaling Jaya.

The raid by the Kajang district police headquarters was in relation to a sedition investigation on Umany, while the sedition investigation was reportedly over Umany’s statement regarding the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s role.

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