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Malaysia: Police Brutality at BERSIH 3.0 Rally Condemned; Government Urged to Establish Independent Oversight Body for Police

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(Bangkok,  30 April 2012) The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) has condemned the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed reaction to the BERSIH 3.0 rally, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 28 April 2012 to demand for electoral reforms in the country, and urged the government to establish an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to check the escalating abuses of power by the police without any further delay.
The regional human rights group also called on the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) to swiftly conduct a full public inquiry into the violence that occurred during the rally.
FORUM-ASIA had earlier, on 27 April 2012, warned of the likelihood of a harsh crackdown on the rally, and urged the Malaysian government to allow the rally to proceed without disruptions. However, FORUM-ASIA’s call, as well as others’, including that of international human rights groups, was ignored by the government, and the rally, which started out peacefully, was met with excessive police violence, including the use of teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowds. 572 individuals were subsequently arrested by the police. At least nine journalists were also allegedly assaulted by the police while covering the rally.
“Time and again, the Malaysian government has demonstrated its total disregard for international human rights standards on peaceful assemblies. FORUM-ASIA strongly condemns the unwarranted use of disproportionate force, including the deployment of water cannons and teargas, and the mass arrests during the BERSIH 3.0 rally,” said Yap Swee Seng, FORUM-ASIA’s executive director.
FORUM-ASIA also slammed the government for shirking its responsibility over the violence that occurred at the rally, with the Deputy Prime Minister putting the blame on the organisers for the violence, and the Prime Minister claiming that the police had done well by acting against the protesters for breaching police barricades at Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square).
“The alleged breach of police barricades by some protestors cannot in any way justify the manner in which the police used force disproportionately against the crowds. The police should not have restricted the organisers from holding its proposed peaceful sit-in protest at Dataran Merdeka in the first place,” said Yap.
Yap added, “Furthermore, it is wholly irresponsible for the Prime Minister to claim that the police was victimised by the protestors and was thus prompted to act, when the fact is that even journalists who were merely there on duty to report on the event were also assaulted and had their equipments confiscated.”
“The excessive use of force by the police at the rally on Saturday plainly illustrates the need for an independent oversight body to monitor and check abuses committed by the police. These violations are very serious and have been committed in a repeated fashion by the police,” said Yap, referring to similar crackdowns on previous assemblies in recent years, including the 9 July 2011 rally, also organised by BERSIH, which saw more than 1,500 individuals arrested.
“The government cannot offer any more excuses, and must immediately establish an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC), as was recommended by the Royal Commission on the Police way back in 2005, without any further delay,” said Yap.
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), who deployed monitors to the rally, has also been urged by FORUM-ASIA to immediately come up with a strong position against the crackdown by the government, as well as to investigate the allegations of violence both by the police as well as some of those who purportedly participated in the rally.
FORUM-ASIA further reiterated its position that the newly-enacted Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, which was bulldozed through the Parliament without any form of public consultation, including with civil society, does not conform with international human rights standards on peaceful assemblies.
“The various threats and harassment by the government leading up to the BERSIH 3.0 rally, as well as the disproportionate use of force by the police – most of which were under the ambit of the Peaceful Assembly Act – are reasons enough to call for the repeal of the repressive new law,” said Yap.
“In addition to our call for SUHAKAM to hold a public inquiry on this rally, the Commission should also look into the Peaceful Assembly Act’s non-conformity with international human rights standards, and further campaign for its repeal,” added Yap.
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