Joint statement from NGOs: Police Shootings Of Civilians Must Not Be Tolerated

13 September 2007
We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the excessive use of force by the police, such as shooting tear-gas and live ammunition into crowds who have gathered at an open-air forum organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) in Kuala Terengganu on 8 September 2007.

This unprecedented use of police force has caused serious injuries to residents who have gathered there, including beatings and head wounds. However more tragic was the use of guns by the police.
A bullet penetrated the chest and lung of Suwandi Abdul while another victim, Muhamad Azman Aziz was shot in the neck.
The disgraceful and worrying incident has made a mockery of the 50th anniversary of Merdeka that was supposed to symbolize the liberation of the people from oppression.
The statement that the police acted in self-defense is absolutely unacceptable. There are many alternatives available to the police that the use of firearms should be the last option, not the first.
There are too many questions that the police must be made answerable to the public:
· Why did the police deny the application of permit for the programme by the organizer in the first place? Past events organized by BERSIH have been peaceful and orderly.
· Why was the police officer who shot the civilians not in police uniform while carrying out his duty? This raises doubts whether he was involved in inciting the crowd which prompted responsible civilians who were concerned about untoward incident (had) to make citizen arrest without knowing he was actually a police officer.
· Was it necessary for police officers to carry guns with live ammunition when dealing with a peaceful assembly of unarmed civilians, who have dutifully informed the police about the event? Was it necessary for a police officer to open fire into a large crowd of civilians?
International human rights law imposes strict conditions on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials. Article 3 of the United Nations Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that “Law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty.”
Article 12 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials recognizes the right of everyone to participate in peaceful assembly. It further stipulates in Article 13 that the dispersal of assemblies shall “avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary”.
Clearly, the police who claimed the drawing of arms on the night was on the basis of self defense, did not meet this basic “necessary” and “proportionate” test.
Firstly, it was not necessary for the police to ban the public assembly as the organizers have an unblemished track record of being responsible and peaceful. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is guaranteed under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
Secondly, those who attended the public assembly were unarmed civilians, families, women and children. There was no reason at all for the police to carry guns with live ammunition when dealing with peaceful assembly. The carrying of guns was totally unjustified and disproportionate to the circumstances faced by the police, let alone discharging them.
In view of the gravity of the abuse of police power, which nearly took the lives of two civilians, we call on the government to set up a Royal Commission to conduct an independent and thorough inquiry into the incident and bring responsible police officers to court of justice.
We must stop the police violence immediately before the police force becomes a cold- blooded trigger-happy squad.
We are appalled that the incident has been used as an excuse by the government to impose a blanket ban on all public gatherings before the coming general election. This further reinforces the suggestion that the incident in Kuala Terengganu may have been pre-meditated and politically motivated by the Government. We call for this blanket ban to be revoked immediately and for all permits be granted without prejudice.
1. Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
2. Women’s Aid Organization (WAO)
3. National Human Rights Society (Hakam)
4. Tenaganita
5. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita
6. Civil Rights Committee of The Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (CRC-KLSCAH)
7. Writers Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI)
8. ArtisProActiv
9. Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
10. Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
11. Group of Concerned Citizen
12. Citizen Think Tank (CTT)
13. Amnesty International Malaysia (AI Malaysia)
14. Labour Resource Center (LRC)
15. Center for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
16. Pusat Janadaya (Empower, PJD)
17. All Women’s Action Malaysia (AWAM)
18. Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (PERMAS)
19. Women’s Development Collective (WDC)
20. Persatuan Alumni PBTUSM Selangor
21. Women’s Centre for Change, Penang (WCC)
22. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
23. Pesticide Action Network, Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP)
24. Pusat Khidmat Pekerja Tanjung (PKPT)
25. Sarawak Dayak Iban Association (SADIA)
26. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)