Rally: Bar Council raps poor police conduct

Nov 12, 07 6:40pm     
The alleged misconduct and excessive use of force by the police during the mammoth rally held over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur have been documented by the Bar Council monitoring team.

In a statement today, council president S Ambiga said various observations were made by the 40 lawyers sent to monitor the rally organised by the opposition-backed Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih)
She listed down five ‘worrying features’ in the conduct of the police which includes:
1. It was unreasonable for the large number of police personnel to man blockades; to inspect and detain vehicles and persons; and further prevent persons from entering the city. The disproportionate use of resources could have been channeled to other initiatives of crime-fighting.
2. The barricades around Dataran Merdeka, Central Market and Masjid Jamek caused more inconvenience to those who did not wish to be in the gathering and strengthened those who did.
3. The use of physical aggression, violence, spraying chemically-laced water and tear gas at a non-provocative crowd in Masjid Jamek, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Raja Laut without warning was unnecessary.
Such measures are of last resort and not the first instance. As a result, several people including bystanders were injured by the water and gas. The authorities initiated physical force on the crowds, caused blockades and stand offs on the road.
4. The deployment of several helicopters flying very low to the ground was extremely dangerous in addition to being provocative and a form of intimidation. The noise created by the helicopters interrupted essential communications for those who were at the gathering and the authorities on the ground.
5. The police refusal to give the Bar’s Urgent Arrest Lawyers Team access to those arrested and detained despite the recent introduction of section 28A of the Criminal Procedure Code. No accurate and adequate information of the detainees and their grounds of arrest was forthcoming.
Our lawyers had to force their way into the police station to seek further information.
Democratic right
Thirty-four people were arrested that day and released later. Several needed medical treatment and were sent to the hospital by the lawyers.
“The Bar Council reiterates it position that citizens must be allowed the right to peacefully assemble in exercising their democratic and fundamental human right,” Ambiga said.
She opined that the police in attempting to block the Bersih gathering created greater unintended chaos and that large peaceful gatherings should be organised without the need for permits.
“The requirement in Section 27 of the Police Act 1967 which states that permits must be given before an assembly may be held must be repealed immediately,” she added.
The demonstration which brought traffic to a standstill saw some 40,000 people taking to the streets to press for electoral reforms.