Inquiry: Suhakam to probe 'live bullet' case

Syed Jaymal Zahiid (mkini)
Nov 14, 07  

In a dramatic about-turn, the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) today announced it would hold a public inquiry into September’s Batu Buruk riot in Kuala Terengganu, specifically on whether the use of live bullets against protesters is justified.
The rights body had earlier ruled out a public inquiry citing legal restrictions.

The Sept 8 ceramah in Kuala Terengganu organised by polls watchdog Bersih turned unruly when the police stopped it on the grounds that the ceramah was unlawful.
“Suhakam views that the usage of live ammunition at public assembly with great concern,” it said in a press statement today.
In the Sept 8 incident, two men were shot when a policeman discharged his firearm four times. The police claimed that it was done in self-defence as the policeman was attacked by a mob armed with sticks.
However, this version has been disputed. The terms of reference for the panel are:
1. To inquire on the circumtances of the situation and the justifiability of the usage and discharge of live ammunition into the crowd by police personnel where person or persons were consequently injured and whether it is a violation of human rights.
2. If violation of human rights occurred, to determine
a) Which person or persons or agency was or were responsible
b) How did such violation come about and the nature of the violation
c) What administrative directives and procedures or arrangements, if any, could have contributed to the violation
d) What measures should be recommended to be taken to ensure that such violation does not recur in future
Suhakam commissioner Muhammad Shafee Abdullah made the announcement to hold the public inquiry today at a press conference at the organisation’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
Shafee will be heading the three-member panel, which include two other commissioners – Prof Khoo Kay Kim and Asiah Abu Samah.
Witnesses needed
Shafee (photo: centre) said the panel will begin its investigations immediately and a report will be furnished by the end of the year.
“We (the panel) will need three days to complete the inquiry but considering an y‘hiccups’, the panel might need a week,” he added. Shafee, however, did not mention the date of the inquiry.
He also urged witnesses to come forward and aid the panel in its investigation. The inquiry will be held “at a suitable place” either this month or December in Kuala Terengganu.
“I hope the media will highlight our plea that witnesses appear before us so that they can aid us in our probe – a panel without witnesses is a useless panel,” he said.
Asked on Suhakam’s change in stance with regards to the public inquiry, he said the commission had never dismissed the idea of holding one.
“We did not set up a public inquiry (previously) because the police was investigating the matter and now since we found out that the police did not investigate the shooting incident but instead focused on the issue of illegal assembly, we decided to step in,” he explained.
According to Suhakam, while the usage of live bullets may have been investigated by the police as part of their probe on the illegal assembly, there has not been an inquiry on the issue nor has there been any court proceeding pending on the issue.
“Our (Suhakam) Act says the minute the process of trial or any court proceeding takes place, we cannot hold an inquiry anymore – even if we are doing an inquiry, we have to stop it,” said Shafee.
Going by his explanation, Suhakam is likely to stop its Batu Buruk inquiry should the police decide to charge someone in court over the shooting incident.
‘Siva took a neutral stand’
On another matter, Shafee said fellow commissioner N Siva Subramaniam’s statement which defended the police’s actions during the Bersih rally in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend, was his personal view and did not reflect Suhakam’s stand.
“I believe Siva took a neutral position. When he made that statement he was only at a particular location (and must not have witnessed police actions at other locations) and I believe he made it in good spirit,” he added.
However, Shafee did not reveal the official Suhakam stand on the matter.
Siva drew flak from various quarters when he said that the police had only used “limited force” and “acted accordingly” during the rally.
Following this, Bersih demanded that the commissioner resign but the latter has since remained tightlipped.