MALAYSIA: Nude squats should be stopped

Public outcry against nude squat case sparks independent report that calls for new laws to regulate police strip searches

Straits Times
Wednesday, January 18, 2006

By Leslie Lau

Kuala Lumpur --- An independent panel has recommended that the Malaysian government put a stop to the police practice of forcing detainees to perform squats in the nude.

The conclusion was contained in a report to the government from investigations prompted by public outrage over a nude squat incident.

The controversy was sparked by leaked video footage of a naked woman initially thought to be a Chinese citizen being made to perform nude squats.

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi's Cabinet will discuss the recommendations at its weekly Cabinet meeting today.

The exact contents and recommendations of the panel, headed by retired chief justice Tun Dzaiddin Abdullah, have not been made public, but some of the panel's suggestions have been leaked to the local media here.

The Straits Times understands that the Independent Inquiry Commission has not suggested an outright ban on nude squats, but said they should be stopped unless under exceptional circumstances.

Malaysian police officials acknowledged to the panel and to the public in recent months that detainees, especially those caught on suspicion of drug offences, were routinely subjected to nude squats.

The reason is to facilitate the extraction of foreign objects from suspects.

A crucial recommendation by the panel is for police strip searches to be regulated, with clear procedures set out under new legislation.

"We have prepared a very detailed recommendation. What you are supposed to do when you arrest a person, when you do the search, who must be there, and when it comes down to strip searches, how you go about it," Tun Dzaiddin was quoted as saying in yesterday's New Straits Times.

After the video was highlighted in the local media here, relations between Malaysia and China were temporarily strained until the woman shown performing the nude squats was brought before the panel and she turned out to be a Malay.

But public outrage over the issue has now turned into pressure on the government to review police arrest and detention procedures.

There is now currently no law to govern police procedures on strip searches. The police standard operating procedure, which is a set of guidelines, allows nude squats.

The Straits Times understands that the independent panel, which included a senior lawyer and a retired minister, was concerned that squats performed while holding one's ears could be perceived to be a form of punishment that would be unjustified because no crime had been proven against detainees.

"Squatting while holding ears is a form of punishment dating back to school days. Here, with lockup detainees, how can you punish somebody when you have not proved anything yet?" Tun Dzaiddin was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times.

The panel's recommendations are the latest blows to a beleaguered Malaysian police force that has been under pressure to reform itself since Datuk Seri Abdullah became Prime Minister in 2003.

In early 2004, Datuk Seri Abdullah set up an independent panel that produced a damning report, released last year, which cited widespread corruption and abuse, as well as a lack of respect for human rights, among police.

Among a host of recommendations, the report called for the setting up of an independent complaints commission, a suggestion The Straits Times understands is also contained in the latest panel's report on nude squats.