Joint Memorandum to SUHAKAM by BERSIH 2.0 and SUARAM
on Excessive Police Abuse of Powers during
Perhimpunan BERSIH 2.0 on 9 July 2011
The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections or more popularly known as BERSIH 2.0, announced on 26 May 2011 that it would be organising a rally, Perhimpunan BERSIH 2.0, on 9 July 2011. The purpose of Perhimpunan BERSIH 2.0 is to promote democracy and to demand for electoral reform.
The Perhimpunan BERSIH 2.0 has 8 immediate demands, which are:
1. Clean the electoral roll
2. Reform postal ballot
3. Use of indelible ink
4. Minimum 21 days campaign period
5. Free and fair access to media
6. Strengthen public institutions
7. Stop corruption
8. Stop dirty politics
BERSIH 2.0 received many detractors and supporters during the month leading up to Perhimpunan BERSIH 2.0. However, the biggest detractor against BERSIH 2.0 turned out to be the government of Malaysia. In the lead up to Perhimpunan BERSIH 2.0, the government launched a systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation.
Systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation
The police under the direction of the Home Ministry carried out a mass crackdown against BERSIH 2.0 supporters which started on 22nd June when one man from Sepang was arrested for selling BERSIH 2.0 t-shirts. According to documentation and monitoring conducted by SUARAM, between 22nd June and 8th July, at least 223 persons were arrested or called in for questioning by the police in connection to BERSIH 2.0. This figure includes the six PSM leaders who are currently detained without trial under the Emergency Ordinance.
BERSIH 2.0 nationwide road shows faced obstacles from the police including setting up road blocks at roads leading to the venues, sealing off the venues of the events, harassing local organisers and arresting persons wearing or selling BERSIH 2.0 shirts.
On 28th June, police raided the office of Empower, an NGO endorsee of BERSIH 2.0 which also functions as the BERSIH 2.0 Secretariat. The police did not produce a warrant nor inform the purpose of the raid and threatened to break into the office. Four laptops, one desktop computer, BERSIH 2.0 materials and various documents were seized in the raid. Six Empower staff and one volunteer were arrested during the raid. Following the raid, the police and mainstream media painted Empower as “reviving communism” based on a photo of Shamsiah Fakeh found during the raid. The photo was in fact part of Empower’s exhibition tracing women’s political participation in Malaysia, where kaum ibu, plantation workers, mui tsai and other women profiles were also presented.
On 1st July 2011, the Home Ministry gazetted BERSIH as an illegal organisation.
The mainstream media went out of their way to paint prominent members of BERSIH 2.0 as fronts for “foreign powers”, with very little credible evidence offered. Other accusations meted against Perhimpunan BERSIH 2.0 include instigating chaos, racial riot, violence, backed by Christian Jewish and communists, to name a few. The government owned television channel, Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) screened public service announcements denouncing the “evils of demonstrations”; and how protests are not “part of” Malaysian culture. No opportunities were given to BERSIH 2.0 to rebut these accusations nor allowed to speak on the electoral reforms that the Election Commission failed to do.
Many government institutions were called into play in this smear campaign, including the supposedly neutral Elections Commission (EC) who made statements against BERSIH 2.0. The Land Public Transport Commission took the step of freezing temporary bus permits for travelling into Kuala Lumpur on 8 and 9 July.
Even private corporations joined in on the act, with toll highway concessionaires flashing messages on their electronic billboards warning people not to participate in any “illegal” assembly. Friday sermons too, joined in the chorus of vilification, calling BERSIH 2.0 Chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan an “enemy of Islam”, echoing similar comments made by the Prime Minister, Najib Razak.
In the last few days before the rally, students received a circular, prohibiting them from attending any “illegal rallies” under threat of expulsion. Civil servants received a similar notice from their department heads, threatening disciplinary action and even sacking for any civil servant found to be participating in any “illegal rally”.
On 7 July, 91 individuals including key BERSIH 2.0 Steering Committee members and were served with restriction orders of questionable legality, barring them from certain parts of Kuala Lumpur on 9 July 2011. Any of the 91 individuals who breach these restriction orders would face arrest.
On the eve of Perhimpunan BERSIH 2.0, a lockdown of the city was carried out. Roadblocks were set up along major highways and roads leading into the city, as a “precautionary measure” necessary for public safety. Outstation buses suspected of carrying rally participants were turned away at entry points into Kuala Lumpur such as Gombak, Sungai Besi and Jalan Duta highway tolls. Public buses were diverted from entering the city. Police officers conducted room to room searches in various hotels in the city, looking for possible rally participants and ordering those suspected to be rally participants to leave the city.
Despite the extensive intimidation and obstacles set in place by the authorities, more than 50,000 Malaysians exercised their right to peaceful assembly and made their way peacefully to the heavily guarded Stadium Merdeka to demand for reform of the electoral system. This peaceful expression of opinion on 9 July successfully withstood the violence perpetuated by the police force, namely the teargas and water cannon attacks, arrests, abuse and harassment.
BERSIH 2.0 and SUARAM proposal to SUHAKAM:
1. Conduct an independent and open inquiry in use and abuse of police powers
With regards to the excessive use of force against participants of the 9 July 2011 peaceful assembly, the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) calls on SUHAKAM to conduct an independent and open inquiry into the abuse of power by the police and the violence committed at the event.
We recommend for the independent and open inquiry to focus on the following key incidents:
1.1. The avoidable death of Allahyarham Baharuddin Ahmad
At Jalan Ampang, Allahyarham Baharuddin Ahmad was reported to have collapsed while running. Concerned citizens brought him into Avenue K shopping mall. Police officers in the area were asked to provide assistance but witnesses said that the police did not respond. Eyewitnesses also said that it took at least one hour for an ambulance to arrive at the scene.
The police have denied any involvement in the death of the deceased and claimed that the post mortem pointed to a prevailing heart condition and no external injuries. However, the family of Allahyarham Baharuddin claims that he did not have a history of heart condition and that Allahyarham Baharuddin’s body had sustained physical injuries such as broken bones in his chest and broken teeth.
1.2 Violent arrest of Muhammad Sabu
PAS Deputy President Muhammad Sabu was the pillion passenger on a motorbike en route to Masjid Negara when he was chased by three unmarked vehicles – two Proton Waja cars and a four wheel drive vehicle. The chase ended when the four wheel drive collided head-on with Muhammad Sabu’s motorbike which caused him to be thrown off the motorbike. Muhammad Sabu was brought into the four wheel drive and to IPD Jinjang, upon which it was made clear to him that the persons who nabbed him were police officers and that he was under arrest. Muhammad Sabu sustained serious injuries to his leg due to this incident.
1.3 Unwarranted police attacks at the KL Sentral underpass
The police fired teargas and water cannon indiscriminately at the participants of the peaceful assembly. The excessive, dangerous and potentially fatal manner in which teargas was used against a group of around 100 persons, including key BERSIH 2.0 and supporting party leaders at KL Sentral, warrants serious attention.
The group was trapped at an underpass between two police teams armed with teargas guns. The police did not negotiate with the group but instead fired numerous rounds of teargas canisters into the underpass from various directions. The underpass was an enclosed space which created a dangerous situation for individuals trapped in the space as fumes from the multiple teargas canisters significantly clouded visibility and caused the people to suffocate.
In addition, two individuals were hit directly by teargas canisters shot into the underpass. MP Khalid Samad was hit by a canister at the back of his head and received six stitches while Fayyadh Afiq, bodyguard to MP Anwar Ibrahim, was hit on his face, which gave him a broken cheekbone. There exists video evidence that indicates a police officer ordered for the angle of the teargas guns to be lowered to target directly at the people (Ref: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYPlTFwQfUY).
The role of teargas in this incident has exceeded beyond the intention of dispersing the crowd, and seemingly fired with the intention to cause harm.
1.4 Violent abuse by police
The police used unnecessary force against participants of the rally including those who were arrested. Many individuals have been beaten, kicked, punched, violently shoved and/or verbally abused by police officers. Police reports from these individuals are being compiled by BERSIH 2.0 and SUARAM.
Arrests of participants of the peaceful assembly were often made using unnecessary physical force. Arrested individuals were physically by police officers even though they are handcuffed. Some individuals were aggressively handcuffed although they did not resist the arrest. Individuals in the process of dispersing were also arrested by the police.
1.5 Indiscriminate shooting of water cannon and teargas into areas of essential services
The police aimed water cannon and teargas into areas of essential services such as Tung Shin Hospital on Jalan Pudu in an attempt to target participants of the peaceful assembly. Participants had sought shelter from teargas and water cannon attacks on the hospital grounds. The Health Minister and police have both denied that the Tung Shin Hospital compound was attacked despite the many accounts from eyewitnesses and photographic and video evidence.
Even in war situations, places of essential services such as hospitals are internationally accepted as no-attack zones. The police force, in its haste to disperse the crowd, had been indiscriminate, excessive and arbitrary in its use of water cannon and teargas. The protocols of usage of teargas and water cannon usage and the conduct of the police force must be investigated.
2.0 Reform the Penal Code and Police Act, 1967
Immediately pressure the government to review the Penal Code and Police Act 1967 and remove provisions which have the purpose of removing all restrictions on the constitutional and human right to peaceful assembly
Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0)
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)