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Monday, May 21, 2012
Suhakam to probe Bersih 3.0 for police violence
UPDATED @ 06:18:18 PM 21-05-2012
By Clara Chooi
May 21, 2012
A Bersih demonstrator is surrounded by police officers near Dataran Merdeka, in Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2012. — Picture by Jack Ooi
KUALA LUMPUR, May 21 — The Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) has agreed to conduct a public inquiry into the Bersih 3.0 rally, saying today it could “no longer wait” for Putrajaya’s independent panel to release its terms of reference.
The commission, in a brief statement here, added that its decision to conduct the inquiry was made “upon serious consideration”, following its receipt of numerous accusations that excessive police force had been used against civilians during the April 28 event.
“The commission had wanted to, but can no longer wait [for] the release of the terms of reference of the independent panel established by the government as they have yet to be finalised.
“Notwithstanding the investigations to be carried out by the said panel, the commission is obliged to carry out its own public inquiry,” it said.
The commission added that it holds the jurisdiction to conduct such an inquiry under the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act 1999.
Suhakam pointed out that its own monitors had observed the electoral reform movement’s third rally for free and fair elections in the streets of the capital. Following the event, it received numerous complaints, reports and memoranda from the public, human rights and professional groups.
Each complaint, it added, came with a call for an independent inquiry into the event.
Apart from opposition party members and Bersih 2.0, the Bar Council had also urged Suhakam to probe the incidence of violence during the rally, insisting that the panel formed by Putrajaya would return biased results.
Their contention is that Putrajaya’s panel is headed by former Inspector-General of Police Tun Hanif Omar, who had, in the days following the rally, called its participants communist sympathisers and alleged that the event was meant to overthrow the government instead of push for free and fair elections.
Suhakam had conducted an inquiry into Bersih 2.0’s July 9 rally last year and found that the police had used excessive force on protesters.
This year’s probe, it said in today’s statement, would be chaired by the commission’s vice-chairman, Datuk Dr Khaw Lake Tee, and assisted by Commissioners Professor Datuk Dr Mahmood Zuhdi Abdul Majid and Detta Samen.
Its terms of reference include determining if there were violations of human rights during and after the April 28 event, and if such violations had occurred, to determine how they transpired, what directives or procedures had contributed to them and which agencies were responsible.
The commission will also recommend measures to be taken to ensure such violations, if any, do not recur.
Suhakam is also calling for public submission of evidence and information regarding claims of excessive use of force during the assembly.
“Members of the public and the media who had witnessed any acts or incidents relating to the allegations of human rights violations, or who believe that they may be able to give relevant information and/or documents and other evidence including video/photo recordings pertaining to these or other such allegations are invited to contact the commission as soon as possible,” it said.
The deadline for public submissions is by 12pm on Monday, June 4.
The commission can also be contacted by telephone (03-26125600), facsimile (06-26125694/5620), email (firstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com) or in person at its premises on the 11th floor of Menara TH Perdana, on Jalan Sultan Ismail here.
The April 28 rally, which saw tens of thousands gather at six different locations before heading to Dataran Merdeka, was peaceful until about 2.30pm when Bersih chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan asked the crown to disperse.
But the former Bar Council president’s call was not heard by most of the crowd who persisted around the historic square which the court had already barred to the public over the weekend.
Just before 3pm, some protestors breached the barricade surrounding the landmark, leading police to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons.
Police then continued to pursue the rally-goers down several streets amid chaotic scenes which saw violence from both sides over the next four hours.
Several dozen demonstrators have claimed that they were assaulted by groups of over 10 policemen at a time and visual evidence appears to back their claim, but police also point to violence from rally-goers who also attacked a police car.
The police car then crashed into a building before some protestors flipped it on its side.