Bar Council says use of force worse at Bersih 3.0

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KUALA LUMPUR: The use of force by the police without any obvious provocation or cause was far worse at Bersih 3.0 on April 28 than at Bersih 2.0 last year, the Bar Council said in its interim report on the rally.

The rally was peaceful until around 3pm when the police opened fire with their water cannons and teargas, the Bar Council said in its report dated May 1.

“Police fired tear gas directly at the crowd and their firing pattern was to box in the participants rather than allowing them to disperse quickly,” said the report, which is based on the unanimous views of the Bar Council’s monitoring team. Some 78 members of the Bar and chambering pupils volunteered to be monitors for the rally which was the biggest-ever public gathering for clean and fair elections.

Following the police’s actions, the report said, there were pockets of retaliation by the rally participants to the wrongful use of force by the police. Other observations were that police were seen taunting, and mocking the crowd, and when some participants threw items at the police, they stooped to return like for like.

The report noted that after the arrest of 512 persons, the Bar’s urgent arrest team was denied access to them at the police training centre Pulapol. This is a breach of Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution  which requires the police to allow an arrested person to consult and be defended by a lawyer of his choice. It is also in violation of the Criminal Procedure Code, which obliges the police to allow an arrested person to consult a lawyer of his choice before questioning begins.

The actions of the police during Bersih 3.0, the report said, reinforce the urgent need for the police force to be changed by statutory means through the establishment of an independent and credible oversight mechanism, such as the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission proposed by the Royal Commission on the Enhancement of the Management and Operations of the Police.

Bernama reported that Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar asked the media and the public to give the police room to investigate the events at the rally.

He said many reports were received including about people being roughened up by police who were breaking up the gathering after participants ignored a court order not to intrude into Dataran Merdeka.

He said policemen were also hurt while four police vehicles were damaged during the gathering.

“We are scrutinising numerous reports given to us. Do not easily jump to your own conclusion. This is because justice and police investigations take time,” he said in a speech at a Meet the Media ceremony here yesterday.

This article appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, May 3, 2012.