CIJ: Stop police violence, protect right to assemble

Press Release
11 September 2007
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is shocked at the unprecedented level of police violence against participants attending a road show calling for electoral reform. The use of tear gas and live ammunition upon participants, resulting in two people being shot and seriously wounded, is appalling. We also object to the call by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s department, Nazri Aziz to take “severe action” against the participants whom he described has “rioted”, without any prior independent investigation into the incident.

Online daily Malaysiakini. com reported that on September 9, police fired at least one bullet to disperse a 500-strong crowd at a public event in the East coast state of Terengganu. This event was part of a road show that has previously toured most states in the Peninsula, without incident, organized by BERSIH, a coalition for electoral reform which includes NGOs and opposition parties. One was apparently shot on the shoulder and another in the neck.
Police arrested a journalist from TV PAS, Suhaimi Taib and 23 participants. Suhaimi and 16 others were released on the same night. English-language daily The Star reported on September 10 that police remanded four others for participating in an illegal assembly.
CIJ is also concerned that the confrontation was the result of deadlock between the organizers and the police, who refused to issue permit for the assembly. The public and the police are increasingly pitted against each other, as they continue to deny people to exercise their legitimate right to peaceful assembly. For example, the police revoked the permit for a gathering organized by the Coalition Against Water Privatization slated on August 10 at the last minute. On August 28, the government responded to pickets organized by the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) to demand a minimum wage with the threat of de-registration of the congress.
Nazri’s call which was reported on September 11 by English daily theSun indicates a bias towards the police, who blame the participants for causing a riot. This is to disregard previous incidents of police initiating violence against peaceful demonstrators. For example on May 28 2006, police attacked and hit participants at a protest against fuel price hikes with batons and water cannons, arresting 20 people and assaulting a journalist.
It is disturbing to note that in these two incidents, public gathering to air legitimate grievances were met with violence. CIJ is worried that denying people the right to assembly results in confrontations that could have been avoidable.
There is an urgent need to guarantee the right of the people to peaceful assembly and to rebuild faith that the police can be the impartial guardians of the law, particularly of the Constitution. We urge an open independent investigation be held into this incident and that laws restricting Article 10 of the Constitution, on freedom of speech, association and assembly be reviewed and repealed.
Issued by
Gayathry Venkiteswaran
Executive Director