KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian rights activists today demanded action over "horrifying" numbers of killings by police over the past decade, with the dead mostly Indonesians and ethnic Indians.
These are extrajudicial killings. The numbers are very significant. It is a major shock to us," R Sivarasa, a human rights lawyer and opposition lawmakers, told a press conference organised by leading rights group Suaram.
They cited police data produced during a recent trial that showed 279 alleged criminals were shot dead over a period of nine years from 2000. Nine people were killed by police in 2000 and the number surged to 88 in 2009.
"We are seeing a pervasive culture of impunity in the police force resulting in gross human rights violations. Those shot dead are called criminals," Sivarasa said.
He said that police typically defended their actions by stating that they tried to arrest the individuals but came under attack with machetes and that the suspect was shot dead in self-defence.
Of the 279 killed by police, 113 were Indonesian citizens, while 61 were ethnic Malaysian Indians and 42 were Malay Muslims – leading to charges that certain ethnic groups are particularly targeted.
A patrolman is currently on trial for the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy during a police car chase in April. Last month three youths aged 15 to 23 were shot dead following another car chase.
In all those cases police said they acted in self-defence.
N Surendran, an activist with Lawyers for Liberty, said police were too quick to open fire.
"There is a sense of shock and horror among the public. People are upset. Without a doubt the police force has members who are trigger-happy with a culture to shoot to kill," he told the press conference.
Surendran urged the government to intervene and "urgently put an end" to the deaths.
"We are shocked and horrified. The 279 deaths is an excessively high number," he said.