Batu Buruk riot: Suhakam inquiry possible

Syed Jaymal Zahiid
Oct 12, 07   

The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) today said it would reconsider its decision not to hold the much sought after public inquiry into the Batu Buruk riot incident last month.

Commissioner N Siva Subramaniam gave this assurance today after receiving a protest letter from polls watchdog Bersih, urging for a public inquiry to look into the human rights violations at the ceramah which was stopped by the police.
The ceramah in Kuala Terengganu was organised by Bersih. The polls watchdog is a coalition of several political parties, members from civil society groups and non-governmental organisations.
Siva said that he would arrange for an emergency commission meeting soon to discuss this matter. The commission is only due to meet on the first Monday in November for its next regular meeting.
“In view of this protest note, Suhakam would discuss it again in the commission meeting to reevaluate the merits and nature of the complaint,” said Siva.
He also said that Suhakam has been consistent in its stand that individuals have the right to freedom of assembly as stipulated in the Federal Constitution.
Unacceptable and hypocritical
About 30 Bersih members had submitted the letter to Siva at the Suhakam office in Menara Tun Razak today.
“By not setting up a public inquiry, Suhakam is actually sending a message to the police, telling them that it is alright to go crack skulls, shoot at civilians and beat protestors up,” said Bersih spokesperson and PKR vice president R Sivarasa.
Sivarasa also said that Suhakam’s reason for not holding the public inquiry – on grounds on legal restrictions – was unacceptable and hypocritical.
“The decision not to hold the inquiry is in complete contradiction with its own precedent in the case of the Kesas Highway public assembly inquiry,” said Sivarasa.
In the Kesas inquiry in 2001, Sivarasa said, Suhakam had conducted an inquiry in its own motion although the police had in fact charged a number of persons in court.
On Tuesday, Suhakam had said that it was not able to hold a public inquiry into the Batu Buruk riot as it was prohibited to do so since there was an ongoing court proceeding pertaining to the ‘bloody’ ceramah incident.
Another member of Bersih, Faisal Mustapha, said Suhakam’s decision not to hold a public inquiry was “extremely disappointing”.
“The reason Suhakam gave for not holding a public inquiry is unacceptable. The court proceeding is only an investigation on vandalism committed against public properties,” he said.
“As a human rights body, they should be investigating into the human rights violations committed by the authorities in Batu Buruk. Only through a public inquiry can justice be served,” he said.
Live bullets
He added that the matter was serious because civilian casualties could have occurred when police fired live ammunition.
Suhakam’s decision not to hold a public inquiry shocked many, especially after the commission’s own preliminary finding concluded that there was evidence of police brutality and human rights violations during the incident.
The Sept 8 riot – dubbed the bloody ceramah – occurred following the police’s refusal to grant a permit for a public forum organised by Bersih.
A police constable shot live bullets to the crowd when the situation became out of control, causing serious injuries to two men.
While the police have described the shooting as self-defence, the opposition was of the view that the act was unprovoked.