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I feel terrible, says Ambiga

 | May 19, 2012

The horror endured by 19 victims of police brutality during the Bersih 3.0 rally has shocked the electoral watchdog's chairperson.

KUALA LUMPUR: Bersih co-chairperson S Ambiga has heard countless accounts of police brutality taking place during the April 28 rally but she was still “deeply shocked” by those of 19 victims who shared their stories with the media this morning.

“I feel terrible,” Ambiga told FMT after the media conference at the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH).

“Every time I hear a single one of these stories it gives me a deep shock. I’ve heard that one may even go blind and that is very shocking,” she said.

The narratives of the 19 victims were similar in that they were confronted by groups of unidentified policemen who beat them for either being a rally participant, recording the on-goings or attempting to help another victim.

Some reported being punched and kicked, another said he was pushed down a flight of stairs and yet another recalled the barrel of gun being shoved into his chest.

One victim was facing the possibility of blindness after being hit by a tear gas canister while others suffered injuries requiring stitches.

“People must remember that there was an unequal situation that day between armed police and unarmed civilians,” Ambiga said. “And we’re not talking about all policemen as there were some good people in the force too,” she added.

Ambiga also noted that there had yet to be an official response from the unidentified policemen implicated in the assault on demonstrators and journalists.

“They aren’t admitting or denying anything and they owe it to the public to come clean on this issue,” she emphasised.

IPCMC needed

The Bersih committee now called for an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPMC) to be set up to investigate allegations of misconduct by the police during the Bersih 3.0 rally.

Bersih co-chairperson A Samad Said said that civil society groups continuously called for the formation of an independent oversight body for this purpose.

“The violent action by the police during the rally and against Bersih 3.0 participants suspected of having broken the law is an indication that the need for an IPCMC remains critical,” he stated.

“By taking a lax position towards numerous allegations and clear evidence of police violence, the government is sending a message that it condones such acts,” he added.

The call comes despite the government having already set up a six-man Independent Advisory Panel to probe the April 28 rally.

The panel is headed by former inspector-general of police Hanif Omar and includes chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak Steve Shim, Petronas corporate affairs senior general manager Medan Abdullah and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) psychologist Professor Ruszmi Ismail.

Bersih however rejected this panel which it claimed would be neither effective nor independent.

“As we have previously pointed out, the formation of the panel is highly flawed due not only to the individuals selected to sit on the panel but also due to the lack of legal structure governing the panel,” Samad said.

What about Bersih 4.0?

Bersih also reiterated its call for Suhakam to conduct an open and independent inquiry into the lack of legal structure governing the panel.

Samad pointed out that in contrast to the panel formed by the government, Suhakam had the legal capacity and structure to be able to conduct an inquiry based on human rights principles.

He added that while the police released the pictures of 141 individuals wanted for breaking the law on April 28, no “substantial action” was taken by the government to investigate acts of violence committed by the police.

“Hence we cautiously accept Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein’s statement that those who broke the law and caused chaos during Bersih 3.0 will be prosecuted including demonstrators, organisers, instigators and the police,” Samad said.

“To date most of the attention has been on the demonstrators,” he added.

Asked if a Bersih 4.0 rally was on the horizon, Ambiga replied that there was no decision to hold one at this point in time.

According to her, Bersih needed to resolve its internal issues as well as “unfinished business” from the Bersih 3.0 rally, and return to its core objective of pushing for free and fair elections.


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