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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Of Peaceful Gatherings, The Freedom Of Speech And Live Ammunition

You would have read or heard of the shocking events in Kuala Trengganu late last night and early this morning. Let us look at these events in perspective.

A coalition aimed at nothing more than a free and fair electoral process, BERSIH (Coalition For Free And Fair Elections), is on a road show aimed at promoting awareness of the need for free and fair elections. This is, in my mind, a nation building effort in light of concerns about the state of the electoral process in Malaysia.

Last night, as a part of the on-going roadshow, a forum was intended to be held at Pantai Batu Buruk, Trengganu. A report appearing in Malaysiakini (Live Bullet Fired At Angry Ceramah Crowd) tells us that the organizers had applied for the necessary permit and had assumed that the ‘event would be given the green-light’. BERSIH events appear to have been held prior to this without any problem (see here for events held to date).

Tan Sri Khalid (PKR) and Mohamad Sabu (PAS) were to speak.

The police refused a permit. No explanation appears to have been given for this refusal. [Update: The updated Malaysiakini report states that a permit was in fact given but withdrawn at the last minute]

From the Malaysiakini report, a report appearing on Harakah online and a sequence of events provided by BERSIH (see here), the following can be discerned: a police cordon was established from as early as 5.00 pm. A stage set up for the event was ordered to be brought down at about the same time. A crowd began to gather. There was a significant police presence. By 8.00 pm, the Riot Squad (Federal Reserve Unit, FRU) began to direct the dispersal of the crowd. The crowd grew in number. At about 10.00 pm the stage set up for the event was torn down. The crowd became agitated and began to engage with the police officers. By 1o.30 the FRU began using water-cannons and tear gas, and continued to do so until about 1.30, at which point the FRU began to withdraw.

Live ammunition was used. The Malaysiakini report quotes the the Trengganu Police Chief as admitting that a shot was fired. He stresses that only one shot was fired. The Bersih and Harakah reports suggest otherwise.

As a consequence 2 persons, described as youths in the Harakah report, have apparently been injured (one, Suwandi Abdul Ghani, directly by the bullet and the other by 'percikan dari beberapa tembakan'). The Trengganu Police Chief asserts that this was in defence against an assault by a group of individuals. No suggestion has been made that any of the said individuals were armed. Further, no explanation has been offered as to how and why other police officers were not on hand to assist.

The BERSIH report states that the shot to was fired by a plain-clothes officer who had apparently infiltrated into the crowd. He was recognised and chased by a group of individuals who were throwing stones, apparently firing at them as he was attempting to evade them.

The Harakah report suggests that other shots were fired. No report states that a warning shot was fired first.

The matters described above are shocking, not only for their brutality but for their implications.

I believe the police acted unconstitutionally and, as such, wrongfully . Malaysians have a constitutional right to assemble peaceably and without arms (Article 10(1), Federal Constitution). This is a right that can only be curtailed by Parliament through restrictions deemed necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof or public order (Article 10(2), FC). The provisions of the Police Act prohibiting unlicenced public gatherings and making it mandatory to apply for licences for public gatherings must be read in the light of the constitutional guarantee.

Malaysians also have the right to express themselves (Article 10(1)). They also have a constitutional right to free and fair elections. The expression of concerns about the electoral process and the need for reforms is a matter of great constitutional significance. This goes to the heart of democracy in this country. The refusal by the police to grant a permit for the event, such refusal being by law permissible only where the supervising police officer concerned is satisfied that the event is not prejudicial to the security of the Federation or likely to cause a public disturbance, was an act in violation of both letter and spirit of the Federal Constitution and an exercise in arbitrary decision making.

The use of any measure to impede the right of assembly and expression and further, the use of force and all such measures employed, is unconstitutional. The use of force and live ammunition is of grave concern. The police were not dealing with armed assailants. They were dealing with person-on-the street Malaysians.

The matters above suggest that the authorities, and any government that supports them by leaving their actions unaccounted for, believe that:
  • events aimed at promoting awareness of the constitutionally provided free and fair electoral process are events that are prejudicial to the security of the Federation or will cause public disturbance;
  • use of force is permissibe to disperse gatherings of Malaysians interested in hearing more about the process in the exercise of their constitutional right to the freedom of assembly and expression. Such use of force would include shooting at individuals who are not bearing firearms or, apparently, no other arms; and
  • police personnel deployed to deal with peaceable gatherings where no arms are apparently being carried are permitted to carry arms and live ammunition and use such weapons at their discretion.
If we are a constitutional democracy, as the Prime Minister says we are, how has it come to this? A Malaysia where force of arms is used against Malaysians exercising their constitutional rights to freedom of choice. What happens next? The dismantling of general elections?

For those of you who need more proof of the collapse of the Rule of Law in this country, look no further.

What say you, Mr Prime Minister?



Anonymous said...

These chaps are very lucky. If they were doing this in Afghanistan or Iran/Iraq, they would have been beheaded by the authorities and their families made to suffer too.

Being shot by the authorities is common in Pakistan and other countries that profess to be Islamic as per our dear PM's recent statement that Malaysia is an Islamic state.

You have to understand, the people have to behave. They shouldnt attend illegal gatherings. Irrespective of whether the person was a plainclothes policeman or an uniformed FRU, he should not be attacked. He is the member of the official Taliban force in Malaysia and is entitled to move among potential trouble makers. Sometimes when there is a major forest fire, there is something called controlled-burning. This is a similar concept, have a plainclothe policeman create a problem to release steam/pressure, and disperse the people without any major problems.

Perfectly legitimate move.

arifabdull said...

Adakah Malaysia sedang menuju cara pemerintahan Burma?

Anonymous said...

Education sometimes can be a disadvantage.....these Kampong folk.....probably still poor and passed by development in this country.....must have watched the "merdeka" celebrations and the monsoon cup.... and must have decided enough is enough......what they did last night may one day be seen as not only an inspiration but the only way forward to effect change in this country.....the time for talk may be over.....

Anonymous said...

It wasn't illegal. They had a permit.

Anonymous said...

signs of fascism abound. malaysiakini reported that pmit was granted and then revoked. no orders from the executive?

Mr. Smith said...

bobsamagel, would you say what you said if the injured had been your son or brother. Friend, defend your UMNO with a conscience.
Let's face it. A Malaysian ceramah has never known to be violent. It is normally made up of middle aged and elderly men and sometimes their wives.
I have attended umpteen of them and the speeches, beside exposing the abuses of the government, are also a form of entertainment.
Yes, the people came to listen and be entertained, not to fight and be shot at.

Anonymous said...

From the look of it, shots were fired by the policeman concern in self.

As such further enquiry is required. Forensic medicine can determine how the person is shot and from which angle. This may help clear up matters.

It has also to be determined if the protesters were armed.

All the finger pointing is more for political mileage than to determine the truth.

Anonymous said...


How much I love my freedom to
Speak off as so I list,
Free speech is grand--alas, they are but few
Who care to listen. Still, I must insist!

Within the future time perhaps
The possibility
Will have dissolved--men´s words kept under wraps:
So it may come to pass; today is free.

Today is free for speaking, if
Bad consequences come--
Say getting shoved more closely to a cliff--
Yet for the moment I am far from glum.

Why should I live in fear? I think
I´m weary of that vibe,
Ours but a turn around life´s skating rink,
So hear my dirty joke or diatribe.