DAP MP: How can recording video of police investigations be obstruction of government duty?

Lawyer Ramkarpal Singh is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court September 9, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Lawyer Ramkarpal Singh is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court September 9, 2020. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 — DAP MP Ramkarpal Singh today questioned the claim that recording a video of police investigations could be considered an offence for the alleged obstruction of duties by government officials, saying that it should be up to the courts instead to decide whether such actions are legal.

Ramkarpal, who is also chairman of DAP’s national legal bureau, said it was “blatantly wrong” to suggest that taking a photograph or recording a video of police carrying out an investigation would be an offence under Section 186 of the Penal Code, noting that such an idea gives the impression that the police are afraid of being watched while carrying out investigations.

Ramkarpal highlighted Section 186, which states that anyone who “voluntarily obstructs any public servant in the discharge of his public functions” shall be punished with a maximum two-year jail term or a maximum RM10,000 fine or both.

“The phrase ‘voluntarily obstructs’ is unambiguous and refers only to situations where one actively does something that hinders a police officer from carrying out his duties.

“How does a passive act of recording investigations come within the ambit of section 186?” the Bukit Gelugor MP said in a statement today.

Ramkarpal said it should be left to the courts to decide if the act of recording police investigations is illegal after considering all the relevant evidence, and that it is not for the police to say whether such actions are illegal.

“Even the inspector-general of police has mooted the idea of body cameras on police officers in the past, obviously for the purpose of promoting transparency in the investigation process,” he said.

Ramkarpal then questioned if the police are suggesting that body cameras were also illegal, saying that this would by extension lead to the “absurd” idea that recordings captured by close circuit television (CCTV) cameras of police officers carrying out investigations would also be illegal.

“There is nothing wrong with recording a police officer carrying out his duties as long as this is done without obstructing him. In fact, this should be encouraged to promote transparency of the investigation process,” he said.

Ramkarpal said the police should stop making blanket statements and leave it to the courts to decide if a particular situation involving the recording of police officers is illegal, based on evidence.

Ramkarpal was referring to the statement made by Bukit Aman criminal investigation department chief CP Datuk Huzir Mohamed earlier today.

Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department (CID) director Datuk Huzir Mohamed speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur October 21, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Bukit Aman Criminal Investigation Department (CID) director Datuk Huzir Mohamed speaks during a press conference in Kuala Lumpur October 21, 2020. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Huzir had verified the recent arrest of a man for continuing to record a police raid and uploading it live in real time through Facebook Live after being warned by the police to stop, asserting the arrest was made under Section 186 of the Penal Code due to the man’s alleged disturbing of the police investigation and alleged obstruction of public officers from carrying out their duties.

Huzir noted that all police investigations are confidential and cannot be simply revealed or even made viral on social media.

While stressing that the act of recording photos or videos is not a crime, Huzir said the sharing and circulation of such photos or videos can affect the police’s investigation process and is also against Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 for initiating transmission with the intention of disturbing others. An offence committed under Section 233 is punishable by a maximum RM50,000 fine or maximum one-year jail term or both.

Huzir did not name any of the individuals mentioned in his statement, but his statement comes after student activist and former Umany president Wong Yan Ke was arrested on November 7 for recording a video of a police raid and streaming it online through Facebook in real time.

Wong Yan Ke is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 26, 2020. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif
Wong Yan Ke is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 26, 2020. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif

Wong has since defended his actions by saying that the video recording was a precautionary move against vigilantes and as he could not at that time verify the identity of the unknown individuals who were said to be police personnel in plain clothes carrying out a raid on current Umany president Yap Wen Qing’s residence.

Wong has denied obstructing the police from carrying out their duties either physically or verbally, asserting that he was unarmed and had not caused any threat to the police and was merely recording a video.

Wong had also claimed that the police had used excessive force against him and that it was disproportionate to arrest him and detain him overnight over the incident, also maintaining that citizens have the right to record any law enforcement process.

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