Najib’s Illusory Transformation (III): Violence Against Civilians – Political Transformation Turns The Clock Back

Najib’s Illusory Transformation (III):

Violence Against Civilians – Political Transformation Turns The Clock Back

By William Leong Jee Keen, Member of Parliament, Selayang

In collaboration with

Political Studies for Change (KPRU – Kajian Politik untuk Perubahan), a local research institute as well as a political think tank.

Najib’s rhetorical promise of a political transformation that would carve a path of greater democracy for his citizens had once again shattered following the unleashing of mayhem during 428 Bersih 3.0 rally on Saturday.

The “Reformasi” movement dated back to 1998 and wave after wave of BERSIH movement bear certain resemblances, which had hundreds of thousands of Malaysia surge in the streets to rally in solidarity against the establishment of the regime, determined to redress injustice where their rights are violated by unconstitutional acts of the ruling government yet eventually experienced violently crackdown by the country’s armed forces. As the world is striding forward in advocating higher level of democracy and human rights; it is indeed a woeful fact that our beloved country is still getting stuck in the rut, entrenching its authoritarian regime and even heightening its suppress over people’s freedom and social forces. Despite of the socio-economic development we have been achieved all these years, the trajectory of democratization is still nowhere in sight. Modernization theory that sees industrialization, economic progress, prevalent urban residence and the like as preconditions for democratization is deemed to be irrelevant in the context of political transition for Malaysia.

Bersih 3.0 – held by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, also known as BERSIH, pressing the government to review Malaysia’s election system and clean up the electoral roll which is allegedly tainted by fraudulent voters – is not merely a national movement, but has now becoming a global phenomenon sweeping all over the globe, involving 80 cities across 35 countries where there are Malaysians. [1] The rising of the unprecedented civic engagement ever since the unfolding of Bersih 2.0, if not the first round of Bersih movement dated back to 2007, and the capacity of the public appeal that it has successfully wielded can hardly be undermined, despite Najib administration ignorantly denied it.

Hundreds of thousands of people thronged the capital Kuala Lumpur to participate in Bersih 3.0 peaceful sit-in by accessing various routes, as early as the night before the historic day, in a bid to bypass the roadblocks or any other form of “preventative” attempt taken by the authorities. It was a peaceful rally with a crowd of enthusiastic, cheerful, boisterous and well behaved supporters that reflected a broad cross-section of Malaysian society, it was indeed peaceful and festive for hours. The international delegates, who were here to observe the election system said that the rally was commendable as it showed that Malaysian were persisted to challenge the shadow of fear in order to uphold democracy despite the hardships encountered when attending the rally.[2]

According to several testimonies by the participators of Bersih 3.0, the event had kicked off peacefully outside the zone barred by law, and only turned violent shortly after the Bersih leaders declared dismissal. Riot police then started to spray chemical-laced water and fire teargas into the crowd whilst making arbitrary arrests without issuing any prior warning. There were even many teargas canisters thrown at Masjid Jamek train station by the police and caused the crowd badly hurt.[3]

Apart from that, police have also been accused of manhandling and assaulting media personnel and protestors during the rally. There were several reports of primarily videographers and photographers being arrested while attempting to record incidents of the carnage. Amongst those arrested included a Malaysiakini photojournalist whose camera and memory card has been confisticated whilst the memory card of another photographer has been destroyed by policeman upon his refusal to delete his shots of the fiasco. A Guang Ming photographer arrested and his camera which worth tentatively RM12,000 went missing after he was released. A Sin Chew reporter, Malay Mail photograher and Channel News Asia video cameraman were all beaten up to pulp, and another journalist from Merdeka Review also claimed that she was assaulted by for four police personnel who attempted to seize her camera and mobile phone. What is more, even foreign media personnel could not escape from the grip of brutality as Al Jazeera journalist Harry Fawcett reported that he and his cameraman were confronted with police violence and their camera was busted up.[4] As one of the BERSIH’s demands out of eight is to appeal for free and fair media access, now that the unnecessarily relentless attack on media personnel by the armed forces under instruction of the ruling government has conspicuously signified that Najib administration has, in fact, never been sincerely listening to his people and putting in effort for a genuine transformation. In the light of this, Senator Nick Xenophon from Australia, who is in Kuala Lumpur on an international fact-finding mission on election processes in Malaysia and was amongst the crowds when police fired teargas and chemical-laced water at demonstrators, slammed mainstream media for its “completely biased and unfair” coverage of the rally. Quoting by Malaysia Today, Xenophon expressed his dissatisfaction by saying that “the rally, which is one of the biggest events in Malaysian history, received only 30 seconds of airtime… I spent more time watching the prime minister having tea and eating banana fritters in Sabah.”[5]

Regardless of the pouring criticism targeted on BN-led government’s attack upon unarmed demonstrators and also the press is disproportionate and excessive, and also undeniably in breach of the right to freedom of expression, Najib’s administration remained stubbornly persistent in its wrongdoing. In fact, Najib’s flip-flop in the way he handled Bersih 3.0 is a clear indication of his incapability as a leader.

The right for assembly negated by violence

Article 10 of Federal Constitution bestowed the freedom of speech, assembly and association on his people. Yet, as the world is watching another brutal and senseless violence on Bersih peacefully sit-in, the call for the right for assembly without the fear of force raining down was drenched by the act of violence occurred during the rally.

The Peaceful Assembly Bill was mooted by the Najib Administration as part of its Malaysia Day promises to allow greater democracy and civil liberties.[6] He then said that the Bill was “revolutionary” and a giant leap towards improving individual freedom.[7] When the Peaceful Assembly Act (PA 2011) was enacted last year, it was to act as a substitute to the archaic Section 27 of the Police Act 1967. According to Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ismail Omar, the said section was to be amended to allow a review on the people’s right to hold public rallies.[8] In another news report, Prime MinisterNajib said the review was to also take into consideration the international norms with regards to public rallies[9].

And yet, the so-called “revolutionary” changes that were made were less revolutionary and more restrictive and a pinch of draconian that contradicted the intentions of the Federal Constitution as well as the international norms. Among the contradictions of the new PA 2011; is the contradiction of Article 10(1) (b) of the Federal Constitution which guarantees the freedom of peaceful assembly, which is also enshrined in Article 20 of the UDHR and Article 5 and 12 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Not to mention Article 15 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which Malaysia ratified in 1995.[10]

The act also outright prohibits the right to assembly in any “prohibited places” and within fifty metre from the said prohibited place. Those prohibited places are as follows:-

Dams, reservoirs and water catchment areas, water treatment plants, electricity generating stations, petrol stations, hospitals, fire stations, airports, railways, land public transport terminals, ports, canals, docks, wharves, piers, bridges and marinas, places of worship Kindergartens and schools.

Section 27 on the other hand, does not discriminate places to assemble or have processions. What the said section does provide is if the “meeting or procession is not likely to be prejudicial to the interest of the security of Malaysia or any part thereof or to excite a disturbance of the peace”, the Officer in Charge of the Police District will issue a licence. Hence, an assembly and a procession are permitted to occur at any place with the discretion of the police.

S. 27 POLICE ACT

PA 2011

Definition of ‘public place’

“public place” includes every public highway, street, road, bridge, square, court, alley, lane, bridle way, footway, parade, wharf, jetty, quay, public garden or open space, and every theatre, place of public entertainment of any kind or other place of general resort to which admission is obtained by payment or to which the public have access.  a road, a place open to or used by the public as of right or a place for the time being open to or used by the public whether or not the place is ordinarily open to or used by the public, by the consent of the owner or occupier or on payment of money.

Street protests

Allowed, subject to issuance of permit. Prohibited completely, although “processions” are allowed. 

Children

No prohibition on participation of children under 15 years old. Children under 15 years old prohibited from participating in an assembly, other than religious assemblies, funeral processions, assemblies related to custom and assemblies approved by the Minister. 

Organisers

No age requirements Person below 21 years old is prohibited from organising an assembly 

Non-citizens

No distinction between citizens and non-citizens Non-citizens do not have the right to participate. 

Prohibited places

None. The list is provided in the above paragraph and within 50 metres from the prohibited place. 

Permits (licence)

Organiser of an assembly is to apply to the police for a licence. An assembly, meeting or procession which takes place without a licence is deemed to be an unlawful assembly. Organising and participating in an unlawful assembly are offences. In the official published bill online, the time to notify by the organisers was 30 days. However, during the passing of the act, that period was cut short to 10 days.[11]Also in the original bill, the police was to inform the stakeholders’ details of the planned assembly within 48 hours.  The new amendment during the passing of the act was 24 hours.

The other amendments include, changing the words “12 days” to “five days” for the police to respond to organisers with details of any restrictions or conditions. Changing the words “four days” to “48 days” for the time for the organisers to appeal against restrictions set by the police.

Lastly, is the changing of words of “six days” to 48 hours for the minister in charge to respond to the appeal by the organisers.

 

Penalty for offences

Fine of between RM2, 000 to RM20, 000.00 and imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year. Maximum RM 10,000 and   maximum RM 20,000 depending on the offences under the PA 2011. 

Powers of the police

Police can deny issuance of licence to an assembly. Police can impose conditions and restrictions on an assembly which includes conditions and restrictions on the date, time, duration, place, manner and conduct of the assembly, and any other restrictions the police deem necessary or expedient. 
A police officer may arrest without warrant any person reasonably suspected of committing any offence under the section. Any police officer may stop and assembly, meeting or procession held without a license or which contravenes the conditions of a license, and may order the persons participating to disperse. A police officer may arrest without warrant any organiser or participant: (i) who refuses or fails to comply with any restrictions or conditions; who has in his possession any arms; or (iii) who recruits or brings a child to an assembly not permitted under the Act. Before exercising his power of arrest, police officer shall take necessary measure to ensure voluntary compliance. A police officer may order an assembly to disperse if (i) it is held at a prohibited place or within 50 metres of such place (ii) the assembly becomes a street protest (iii) any person at the assembly does or something that would tend to promote ill will, discontent or hostility amongst the public or does something that would disturb public tranquillity (iv) any person at the assembly commits any offence under written law (v) the participants do not comply with restrictions or conditions imposed by the police or (vi) the participants engage in unlawful or disorderly conduct or violence towards persons or property. 

*Reproduction of Malaysian Bar FAQ on the Peaceful Assembly Bill at http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_details&gid=3461&Itemid=332 and amendments made during the passing of the act.[12]

The new PA 2011 made the former Section 27 of the Police Act look like a walk in the park. The Prime Minister vowed for revolution in terms of upholding the fundamental liberties of the citizens of Malaysia prior the enactment of the new PA 2011 yet what the new act has shown is that the government has no sincerity in protecting the fundamental rights of the people. The former Section 27 of the Police Act allows the police to take “all things necessary for dispersing the assembly and arresting them” whilst the PA2011 allows the police to “arrest without warrant, any organiser or participant who fails to comply with the restrictions and conditions imposed, who, during the assembly, has in his possession any arms, or recruits or brings a child to the assembly”.  To be noted in the new PA 2011, “the police before exercising the power to arrest are to take necessary measures to ensure voluntary compliance by the organiser or participant.”

 

That being said, the PA 2011 seems to be more lenient in the sense of enforcements against those in the assembly. However, in a close up, it is nothing but aesthetic protection of those in the assembly. This comes from the vague terms “necessary measures to ensure voluntary compliance”. The act does not define what is necessary to ensure the voluntary compliance of the organisers and participant.

If the intent of the Parliament during the passing of this act was to allow arbitrary use of force such water cannons with chemical-laced water, tear-gassing innocent civilians as well as sealing off public places such as Merdeka Square from citizens of Malaysia, then it is safe to say that the “revolutionary” changes are intended to be autocratic and well beyond draconian then the former Section 27 of the Police Act.


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