(Malaysiakini) Gov't could have averted 'bloody' riot

Soon Li Tsin
Sep 14, 07 — The violence which rocked Kuala Terengganu over the weekend could have been avoided if the government adhered to the recommendations of regulating peaceful assemblies, said a former human rights commissioner.

Consumer and human rights activist Prof Hamdan Adnan told Malaysiakini that the government fails to see that the public is unhappy and clamping down on them is not the solution.
“The government’s denial is bad because they don’t seem to realise that the public is not happy. There must be a platform for people to voice their dissatisfaction.
“A public assembly is just a manifestation. What’s important for the government to understand is to find out why the public is driven to extremes, and solve that problem,” he said.
Hamdan, who was formerly with the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), was commenting on Saturday’s clash between opposition supporters and the police in Batu Burok.
The clash broke out following the police’s decision not to grant a permit for a public forum organised by the opposition-backed election watchdog Bersih.
The incident left several people injured, including policemen. Two men, Suwandi Abdul Ghani, 37, and Muhamad Azman Aziz, 21, sustained gunshot wounds to the chest and neck respectively after being shot by a policemen.
Previously, Terengganu police chief SAC I Ayub Yaakob stated that the 25-year-old policeman had discharged his firearm four times in self-defence after being set upon by an armed mob.
No need for police permit
Meanwhile, Hamdan said there is no reason why a police permit is needed every time a public gathering is held.
“The police will clampdown on such gatherings anyway, if something happens. It’s their job to monitor and make sure it remains peaceful,” he said.
Article 10 of the Federal Constitution guarantees the right to assemble peacefully without arms subject to Parliament legislation deemed necessary in the interest of national security and public order.
Such legislation seen in use today include Section 27 of the Police Act 1967, which gives the police arresting powers for failure to procure a permit for a gathering of three people or more.
Meanwhile, the recommendations to the government made by Suhakam after the ‘Bloody Sunday’ public inquiry included the abolition of a permit; sufficient crowd control by uniformed and named police personnel; and restraint in the use of water cannons, batons and tear gas.
The ‘Bloody Sunday’ anti-fuel hike demonstration saw 20 protesters arrested and at least two demonstrators needed medical attention after suffering beatings by the riot police.
Credibility at stake
Hamdan expressed concern that the country is still practicing feudal democracy where “the police have to check with Bukit Aman (federal police headquarters) and Bukit Aman has to check with the ministers.”
“If the assembly is a government party there would be no problem. If Umno Youth wanted to assemble anywhere at anytime and call it any name, the police would not be so nervous,” he said.
“The authority is with the officer-in-charge of police district (OCPD) but he is so nervous to act if it’s an opposition gathering. He is worried that his future would be affected…,” he added.
Hamdan noted that people cannot assume that banning public assemblies would ensure peace because authorities might face the threat of underground rallies being organised instead.
Drawing parallels between the police and the media, he said the credibility of both institutions are at stake if they do not ‘do the right thing’.
“For example, the government will be on the losing end if the media is seen as a government tool. We expect the media to be a watchdog.
“But instead, it is a government mouthpiece, then it becomes a lapdog. If it’s a lapdog, then it’s better to read news about Mawi and Siti Nurhaliza than read any news about the country’s politics,” he quipped.