by Kee Thuan Chye
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
We have witnessed much madness and asininity displayed in the aftermath of the Bersih 3.0 rally of April 28, especially exemplified in the laughable antics of anti-Bersih groups, such as hawkers’ group Ikhlas, the army veterans who shook their buttocks in front of Bersih chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasen’s home, and the Kuala Lumpur Petty Traders Action Council.
Some of it can also be seen in the comments on the rally made by government leaders, including Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim’s incredulous declaration that only 22,270 people took part in it. But most risible of all is the Government’s appointment of ex-Inspector General of Police Hanif Omar as chairperson of the so-called independent panel to investigate the violence that occurred on April 28.
So it is with considerable relief that we now welcome the decision of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) to conduct its own public inquiry into the violence when earlier it had said it would wait for the Government’s panel. Suhakam decided to go ahead because the panel has yet to come out with its terms of reference, and also because it has received numerous complaints from the public about the police brutality committed during the rally.
This is a show of good sense amidst the show of puerile emotionalism by the anti-Bersih groups and anti-Bersih ministers. It restores faith in the belief that rationality still rules okay in our current tragicomic state.
Critics may aver that a Suhakam inquiry will not amount to much and that it will not result in action. Suhakam’s findings on Bersih 2.0, in which it concluded that the police used excessive force during that rally of July 9, 2011, has apparently not been taken much notice of by the authorities.
After releasing the findings three weeks ago, all Suhakam could say was: “It is now up to the police to act according to the recommendations as Suhakam does not have enforcement power.” It has, however, not elicited a positive response from the police or the Home Ministry. They know Suhakam is a toothless tiger.
Even so, an inquiry into Bersih 3.0 conducted by Suhakam would still not be a futile exercise. First, it will give those who allegedly received brutal treatment by the police the opportunity to be heard. This is important because it gives them hope. It also provides a healing balm.
Second, it will galvanize the voiceless and instill in the Malaysian psyche that in a democracy, the downtrodden can speak up.
Third, as evidence is presented during the inquiry, it will be made known to the public how the police conducted themselves during the rally. The truth, in as far as it can be ascertained, will be made known. People who have been skeptical of Bersih and people who don’t read online news media will get a side of the story different from that spun by the mainstream media. If they are ignorant of what the police did during the rally, the inquiry will help enlighten them.
Above all, in choosing to go ahead with its own inquiry, Suhakam is making a significant symbolic gesture. It is standing up to the Government and implying that the Government’s own panel does not inspire public confidence.
Indeed, one wonders if the Government itself, after having been lambasted for its appointment of Hanif and one or two other members, still has confidence in its own panel. If it did, why is it taking so long to formulate the terms of reference? It has been nearly two weeks since the panel was announced.
Has the Government realized that it did indeed make a mistake in appointing Hanif as the chairperson?
First, how could an ex-policeman be head of a panel that is investigating, presumably among other things, the possibility of police brutality? How neutral could he be?
Second, how could Hanif be the head when prior to his appointment, he had made the biased remarks that there were Communist sympathizers among the Bersih 3.0 rally participants, and that the movement was aimed at toppling the Government?
That he was wrong on the second point and obviously snatching at straws in invoking the long-dead Communist bogey shows thinking reflective of an insensible Malaysian. Can we, therefore, trust an investigative panel headed by such a person?
In any case, inquiry or no, informed members of the public have already delivered their verdict on what happened on April 28.
Many are the photographs and videos circulating in cyberspace of what the police did – beyond the parameters of responsible policing.
Their biggest mistake was attacking media personnel even after the latter had identified who they were.
What they did to reporter Mohd Radzi Abdul Razak of theSun was a severe indictment of their conduct. He was merely sitting down and having a cigarette when a group of seven to eight policemen charged him. He told them he was a reporter and showed them his media accreditation card. But they punched and kicked him, and he landed in hospital with injuries to his ribs, jaw and neck.
Photographer Muhammad Arif Kartono of The Malay Mail also showed his media accreditation card but it didn’t stop the cops from kicking him in the face and on the legs, and stomping him on his back.
Another mistake the police made was confiscating the memory cards of people taking photographs. It reinforced the idea that we are living in a police state.
This was exacerbated by Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s explanation that confiscating memory cards was part of the police’s standard operating procedures. It had many people laughing till they had tears in their eyes. More comedy followed when the IGP, Ismail Omar, corrected Hishammuddin the next day.
Fortunately, many people escaped with their memory cards intact. Some of their photos show policemen kicking people who were already down on the ground and helpless. In many instances, they attacked in a gang – with several cops pouncing on a lone target.
The videos are even more convincing because they record live action. Apart from those showing policemen behaving like mobsters, there is one of a policeman who pointed a gun at a crowd. Was brandishing a dangerous weapon necessary? Should he not be hauled up?
Running around in our minds are these questions: Why did the police chase after the rally participants when their job should be to merely disperse them? Why did they allegedly enter restaurants and mosques to drag people out? Why did they allegedly beat up people who were not even taking part in the rally?
And why did many of them not wear their badge or identification numbers?
Let’s hope the Suhakam inquiry will help answer these questions.
Meanwhile, the police should prove that they are capable of doing the right thing by arresting anyone who sets up stall outside Ambiga’s house if they don’t have a trading permit from Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur. As the mayor of KL, Ahmad Fuad Ismail, has said, it would contravene the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974. That is surely very clear.
So let’s see what the police do about it.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, available in major bookstores.