SUARAM: Malaysia's Government Attempts to Whitewash Police Brutality



Press Statement: 21 June 2012

Malaysian Government Defends Police Brutality in Peaceful Assemblies

SUARAM is gravely concerned at the Malaysian government’s attempt to whitewash the state sponsored violence and police brutality targeting peaceful protestors who were legitimately exercising their right to free speech and peaceful assembly during the BERSIH 3.0 rally for free and fair elections in April this year. The Malaysian government failed in its duty as a member of human rights council to promote and protect the fundamental civil liberties of its citizens.
In its speech at the UN Human Rights Council yesterday, the Malaysian government stated that it attached importance to peaceful assembly and freedom of association. The government maintained that it was fully committed to upholding the rule of law and had recently implemented massive reforms that had turned its legislative framework from a restrictive to a more open platform and claimed that the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) was meant to facilitate peaceful assembly. However an act that bans street protests and places severe restrictions on peaceful assembly cannot claim to facilitate it. As the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly highlighted, “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are essential components of democracy and everyone is entitled to these rights. As a result, no one must be criminalized for the sole exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, nor should he or she be subject to any discrimination, threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals.” The truth that the Malaysian government tries to hide however was clearly exposed through extensive footage on various international news channels and Youtube.
The government also claimed that various rallies and assemblies were held over the last few months and the majority of these were peaceful. The government claimed that the police apparently only intervened during the BERSIH 3.0 rally when the barriers were breached and the police acted within the law in line with international standards. We however question the necessity of the force used against BERSIH protesters and believe that it was wholly disproportionate and excessive.
There are international human rights standards in policing public assemblies that the police have to adhere to and they are:
1. The principle of necessity requires that law enforcement officials use force only when strictly necessary. Force may be used when non-violent means remain effective to achieve the intended results restrict must be used to the minimum extent necessary
2. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall: (a) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence ( b )Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life;  and (c) Ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment; .[1]
However, during the BERSIH rally we observed the following:
a.       The protest was overall peaceful and there were no threats of injury and death against the police or the public so there was no necessity for the police to use force
b.      Even if there were protesters that broke through the cordon at Dataran Merdeka it  was not the restricted area stipulated  by the court order . They did not pose any threat to the public or the police and the police could have used tactics to contain them without targeting the rest of the protesters.
c.       The police clearly used disproportionate force against peaceful protesters. Police were seen using unnecessary and excessive force by beating and kicking protesters before arresting them and there was no attempt to avoid force or minimize injury to the protesters.
d.      Therefore it is clear that the police operations on 28 April 2012, failed to respect the right to freedom of expression and assembly and unnecessary and excessive force were used by the police which we believe were in violation of international human rights standards.
The use of tear gas, chemical laced water-cannons and the brutal use of police force against peaceful and dispersing protestors clearly breached all international standards.
The Malaysian government further claimed yesterday that organisers should be held responsible for the allegedly unruly behavior of the protestors. We would however like to remind the Malaysian government that the UN Special Rapporteur clearly stated that “assembly organizers and peaceful participants should not be held responsible and liable for the violent behaviour of others.” Despite this the Malaysian government  and the Municipal Council had made steps to initiate civil suits against the Bersih 2.0 steering committee members, suing them for purported  damages incurred during the Bersih 3.0 rally.
We welcome  Mr Maina Kiai’s assertion that, “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association play a decisive role in the emergence and existence of effective democratic systems as they are conducive to dialogue, pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness, where minority or dissenting views or beliefs are respected.” The Malaysian government must take major steps to overhaul the current policing system that does not respect or protect the human rights and right to peaceful assembly of its citizens. For decades, the government has failed to deliver on promises to hold the police accountable for abuses. It must now commit to implement a professional police force that respects human rights. Malaysia is modernizing rapidly, but the government and the police continue to use their old methods of abuse and threats. It is time for the government to stop talking about reform and fix the system.
Released by, Nalini Elumalai, Executive Director of SUARAM, [email protected]
[1] Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Principle 5