Batu Buruk riot: No Suhakam public inquiry

Andrew Ong (Malaysiakini)
Oct 9, 07 — The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) has decided not to hold a public inquiry into the Batu Buruk riot in Terengganu last month. It cited legal restrictions as the reason for this.

The decision was made despite Suhakam’s preliminary fact-finding team concluding that there was evidence of police brutality and human rights violations during the incident.
“The investigations show there was police brutality on civilians during the public assembly which turned into a riot due to the situation getting out of control,” said Suhakam commissioner N Siva Subramaniam during a briefing on the preliminary findings in Kuala Lumpur today.
However, Siva said the commission was “powerless” to investigate the riot because of an ongoing court proceeding.
He said Section 12 of the Human Rights Commission Act 1999 forbids the commission from investigating human rights violation complaints when related cases are being argued in court.
Presently, Khair Muzakkir Ali, 22, is on trial for destruction of public property and failure to produce his identification card to the police during the riot.
“If the law permits us, we would have considered favourably (to hold a public inquiry)” he replied to a question.
The only action which Suhakam would pursue is a discussion with the Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan on the commission’s suggestion on crowd control measures and amendments to the Police Act 1997 relating to licensing for public assembly permits.
The Sept 8 riot occurred following the police’s disruption of a ceramah organised by election reforms pressure group Bersih.
There were scores of reported injuries between police and civilians. Two civilians also suffered gunshot wounds when a policeman discharged his firearm.
‘Crowd control failure’
Following this, Bersih lodged a complaint with Suhakam which led to the commission fielding a team to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if a public inquiry should be held.
The team, led by Siva, interviewed a total of 43 individuals comprising 13 ‘victims’, 22 police officers and eight opposition party leaders between Sept 19 and 20.
To a question, Siva said the preliminary investigations failed to determine the cause of the riot.
“At this preliminary investigation stage, the delegation could not find any proof that the organisers orchestrated the riots, or that it was planned by the police as alleged by the organisers,” he said.
He added that evidence indicated that the police had failed to control the crowd in the shortest period of time as the riots continued from 10pm until 2am.
“This might be because the police and the FRU (riot police) were more on the defensive and not in the offensive position in handling the crowd.
“This resulted in the crowd being bolder in attacking the police and FRU (riot police) with stones, wood, steel rods and even Molotov cocktails,” said Siva while reading from a prepared statement.
Amend Police Act
Siva did not provide a direct answer when asked if police use of water cannons and tear gas during the incident were justifiable.
Based on Suhakam’s prepared statement, the commission said the use of water cannons and tear gas “cannot at this juncture be considered as an act to curtail freedom of assembly”.
On discussions with Musa, Siva said Suhakam would be highlighting recommendations on policing and freedom of assembly as well as determining the police’s position on the matters.
He said the police should rightfully apply “international standards” in crowd control efforts as highlighted in the guidelines outlined in Suhakam’s report on the public inquiry into the KLCC incident in 2006.
The guidelines recommended that the police exercise outmost restraint in the use of force and respect human life.
Siva said Suhakam would also be raising its long held position that Section 27 of the Police Act 1997 be amended to allow peaceful assemblies to be held without permits or licences, during the meeting with Musa.
However, Siva stressed that Suhakam does not endorse public gatherings that are not peaceful, and that the commission classified the incident in Batu Buruk as a riot based on evidence gathered.
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[url=]No Suhakam public inquiry on Batu Buruk riot[/url]