By Clara Chooi
The Malaysian Insider
May 11, 2012
KUALA LUMPUR, May 11 — The Malaysian Bar has approved a resolution condemning the police for using “excessive” and “indiscriminate” force to disperse Bersih 3.0 protesters on April 28, despite objections raised by a minority group of lawyers at today’s extraordinary general meeting (EGM).
The resolution, passed by way of voting this evening, also demands apologies from the home minister and Inspector-General of Police to the public and members of the media over the conduct of the police during the rally.
According to Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee, only 16 of the 1,270 Malaysian Bar members in attendance today had opposed the resolution, which contained findings of alleged police brutality against protesters and members of the media.
A total of 939 votes were recorded in support of the resolution. There are some 14,000 members in the Malaysian Bar.
Commending today’s high turnout at the EGM, which exceeded the turnout of some 800 members during the Bar’s annual general meeting (AGM) in March, Lim said it was clear that members viewed the events surrounding Bersih 3.0 seriously.
“The fact is, there was widespread reports of police brutality and excessive, disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannons in KL, which only started after the alleged reported breach of the barricades at Dataran Merdeka after 3pm… prior to which, there was a carnival-like atmosphere,” he told a press conference after the three-hour EGM.
Lim, referring to a report by the Bar Council’s team of 78 monitors for the rally, said unlike the chaos during Bersih 3.0 in Kuala Lumpur, other concurrent rallies held in Kuantan, Johor Bahru, Malacca and Ipoh had seen the police acting with restraint.
In KL, he said, the police had failed to offer sufficient warning to protesters before moving to disperse them. The police are also said to have boxed in protesters by sealing off escape routes, instead of offering them sufficient time to disperse.
He said the estimated 100,000-strong crowd that thronged numerous streets in the heart of Kuala Lumpur on April 28 had not been allowed enough room to disperse as volleys of tear gas canisters and chemical-laced water rained down on them even as they attempted to run.
“Which begs the simple question: Why has the police not read or implemented the findings and recommendations of Suhakam (Malaysian Human Rights Commission)?” he asked, referring to four past investigations conducted by the panel on different rallies.
Lim also insisted that the jeering or insults allegedly hurled by protesters at policemen on duty during Bersih 3.0 did not justify the force with which the latter group retaliated.
He pointed out that protesters were unarmed and that the burden of ensuring crowd control lies in the hands of those who are armed, namely the police. Restraint, he said, must be maintained at all costs.
“Does calling the police ‘sampah’ (rubbish) or ‘anjing’ (dog) justify the firing of tear gas or water cannons? Let us not forget this — the police have the responsibility, the powers and the weapons. Malaysians do not,” he said.
Lim noted that debates during today’s EGM had been robust as a number of lawyers in attendance had stood to express opposing views.
But, he stressed, the resolution was later supported by “an overwhelming majority”, indicating that the Bar was unified in its stand on Bersih 3.0.
Among others, the resolution condemns the “excessive, indiscriminate and wrongful” use of tear gas and water cannons against protesters, failure of the police to allow rally participants time to disperse and widespread reports of police brutality against protesters and media professionals.
“Bar members also asked the president (Lim) to highlight to the media that the arrest, assault and confiscation of the equipment of the media are condemned by the Bar. This must never happen
“Secondly, it is most unfortunate the mainstream media, had not given balanced reporting,” Lim said.
Today’s EGM was called to discuss the slew of issues surrounding the rally for free and fair elections, which saw chaos on the streets of the capital when police fired tear gas and chemical-laced water to disperse protesters.
According to a notice issued on the Malaysian Bar’s official website on May 4, the EGM was called to discuss a motion “in relation to the events of and surrounding the public rally on 28 April 2012 organised by Bersih 3.0, and matters in connection therewith”.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently labelled the demonstration as an attempt by certain quarters to overthrow the elected Barisan Nasional (BN) government, as he hardened his administration’s position towards the electoral reform movement.
Lim previously said that the Bar’s monitoring team had found more instances of police brutality compared to last year’s July 9 Bersih event.
He also said the authorities failed to take heed of criticism and recommendations outlined by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) with regards to police conduct during Bersih’s first two rallies, and lamented on how “little has changed.”