Sep 16, 07
“It was just an issue of location,” said Terengganu’s top cop on last week’s riot, which resulted in over RM1 million in damages and two people being shot.
Government-owned media had blamed the opposition for instigating the riot. In response, PAS leaders said the police employed agent provocateurs as part of a crackdown.
The riot rocked the normally placid northeastern state. In the mayhem, a general duty police constable decided to discharge his firearm four times, injuring two people. The shooting is the first of its kind to occur during a ceramah.
Although the incident is still under investigation, the police and opposition members have polarised opinions on who was the ‘victim’.
In an interview with Malaysiakini, Terengganu police chief SAC I Ayub Yaakob said the police were willing to negotiate a relocation of the ceramah, organised by Bersih, where thousands of people were expected to turn up.
“The gathering was against the law. We could not have allowed it. It is that simple,” said Ayub when met at the Kuala Terengganu police contingent headquarters on Thursday.
This was despite that the area was often used for ceramahs.
“It’s to prevent a riot from happening,” added Ayub.
Describing last Saturday’s riot as an “unfortunate incident”, he said the decision to cancel the permit was made on Sept 6, two days before the ceramah was held.
He said the riot could have been averted if there were more cooperation from organisers, in particular PAS.
“It was more than enough time for them (PAS) to inform the others. When was the application made? It was sent the night before, and you want to hold it the following day?”
“It’s normal procedure. We need to see who is organising the ceramah and things like that. We also want to see the steps taken to handle traffic. How many will turn out – things like that,” he explained.
Following an appeal by the party, Ayub said he had waited in his office until 6 pm for renegotiations.
“I sat here for two hours. I waited for them (PAS representatives) to turn up. The applicant only turned up after two hours and he couldn’t make any decision,” he said.
Ayub said the location of the ceramah at Pantai Batu Buruk was not suitable.
“The road leading to the house was so small. How could it cope with the tens of thousands of people who were expected to come? The moment we give the permit, we have to ensure the safety of the public,” he said.
“When they don’t have a permit, it means that whatever happens is against the law.”
He said the police would have no problem if the ceramah was relocated to Rusila, a town nearby Kuala Terengganu.
“They had asked if they could relocate to Rusila, I said alhamdulliah, I would assist. By all means, I would have provided assistance.
“In previous ceramahs in Rusila, we gave traffic assistance. There was no problem,” he said, adding that over 12,000 people attended a ceramah there two weeks before.
Since the event was organised by Bersih – a coalition of opposition parties and NGOs to campaign for electoral reforms – it was decided that the function be held on ‘neutral’ ground as Rusila is widely known as a PAS meeting area.
According to Ayub, 361 public gatherings have been held this year, of which 171 had approved permits. He said the ceramah at Pantai Batu Buruk would draw a very large crowd.
“We received information that thousands would come. The ceramah would not have been small, there would have been many people. There were so many speakers, (and) of course many people would have turned up,” he said.
“The freedom to express should not be taken to the point that it took away the privacy of others,” he said.
Purely police action
On the use of the beach adjacent to the house where the ceramah was to be held, Ayub said it required permission from the local authorities.
Asked if he was instructed to carry out a crackdown he said, “No political intervention. Nothing. This is purely police action. 100 percent police action. I don’t receive orders from anyone.”
Asked whether plainclothes officers were directed to act as provocateurs to end the gathering, he said: “It’s not our job to provoke. We wanted to end the riot and bring calm. Why would we want to provoke. That’s not our job.”
On complaints that a roadblock was set up 500 metres from the ceramah location, Ayub said party members were not informed of the cancellation.
“Did they tell their party members that the ceramah was cancelled, and that they don’t have the permit to hold it?
“You have to advise your people. They (party leadership) sat in the house. They didn’t know what was going on. They could not advise them. They were not with their followers,” he said.
“I don’t want to say more about this. This is not nice. I don’t want to get into polemic (arguments),” he added.
He said the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) personnel were deployed because the police officers were being pelted with rocks: “They (police officers) couldn’t take it anymore. They were being harassed despite repeatedly telling the people the assembly was unlawful.”
PAS has claimed that police officers had provoked rioters, by employing plainclothes agent provocateurs.
The Kuala Terengganu City Council (MPKT) estimated over RM500,000 of city property were damaged as a result of Saturday’s riot. Over RM1 million in general property damage was reported.
Shooting and photos
On the shooting, Ayub said the matter was under investigation. The police officer is currently on medical leave and is reportedly under investigation for attempted murder.
The two PAS members who were shot, on the other hand, are also being investigated for attempted murder.
One has been discharged from hospital. Both are still under remand.
Ayub described the shooting as being isolated from the riot: “The incident has nothing to do with the operation. What I was told, he (the police officer) was in a desperate situation. He was beaten and he had to respond. In an act of self-defense, he had to fire.”
“If not he would have died. That is nothing to do with the operation. We don’t use live bullets to disperse unlawful assemblies.
“Under the law, he can use force to protect himself if his life is in danger. Even civilians. In the event that your life is threatened, or if you are assaulted, you can act. It’s clearly stated under the law,” he said.
He said a total of four shots were fired: “Based on the report, we cannot lie, or cheat. We cannot lie on how many bullets were fired. We know which gun the bullets were fired.”
Ayub also denied that the police supplied photographs to the media.
“They can (say) whatever they want. How can we supply? We never do that.
“If anyone has information, please come forward. They can lodge a police report. If they (police officers) were responsible (distribute pictures to the media), we can act against them,” he said.
Ayub was adamant that the police did not confiscated cameras during the riot. He also denied that the police were distributing videos of the riot.
“I’m very open. I want everyone to get involved in the police. In my reaching-out programmes, I want to know the needs of the people and what kind of service they want. I invite people to come to the police station to advise on that,” he said.
He urged witnesses with information on the riot to come forward to have their statements taken.
(Malaysiakini) Police chief: Ceramah location matters