“A Day of Shame” for Media Freedom, Police Professionalism and Najib’s Political Transformation

Malaysia marks World Press Freedom Day today under the shadow of “A Day of Shame” last Saturday (Bersih 3.0 on April 28, 2012) for media freedom, police professionalism and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s political transformation.

Never before in Malaysian history have so many media reporters and photographers been the target of such ruthless, brutal and systematic police attacks while covering the Bersih 3.0 “sit-in” for free, fair and clean elections, making a total mockery of the recent amendment to the Printing Presses and Publications Act allegedly to allow for greater media freedom in the country.

It is an indictment of all the “transformation” programmes and promises of the past three years that media freedom in Malaysia had never felt more endangered to the extent that media representatives and their supporters are marking the World Press Freedom Day by donning black with a yellow ribbon!

This is why I am wearing black with a yellow ribbon today.

When apologizing yesterday to the Malay Mail photographer Arif Kartono, who was attacked by seven to eight policemen who kicked him in the face, legs and stomped on his back and his camera damaged during the assault despite clearly identifying himself with his media tag, the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said:

“Just because there are hooligans in the police force does not mean that the entire organization comprises of thugs.”

This is agreed, but what actions have been taken against these police “hooligans” who had marred the peaceful and successful Bersih 3.0 rally by 200,000 to 300,000 Malaysians regardless of race, religion, region, class, gender or age for a common national cause of a clean elections for a clean Malaysia by going on a rampage of police violence and brutality through excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force against media practitioners and peaceful demonstrators?

Furthermore, how could this admission of police “hooliganism” square with the instant praise by the Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein who had commended the police for their “professionalism and restraint” on Bersih 3.0.

I agree that the police had acted with “professionalism and restraint” last Saturday for which they deserve full commendation – but this police professionalism and restraint lasted until 3 pm that day.

Last Saturday, Bersih 2.0 co-chairperson Datuk Ambiga Sreenivasan had announced at the Masjid Jamek meeting point at about 2.30 pm the successful holding of Bersih 3.0 rally mobilizing some 250,000 people in support for free, fair and clean elections and called for the ending and dispersal of the crowd. The call for the dispersal of the crowd was also repeated by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who spoke briefly after Ambiga.

The government and police authorities, with all the most expensive and state-of-the art communications system approved by Parliament, would have known of Ambiga’s announcement at 2.30 p.m for the dispersal of the crowd – which made the excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of police force, like firing of tear-gas and water cannon, half an hour later at about 3 pm completely unwarranted and unjustified even if there had been a breach of the Dataran Merdeka barricades. Even more inexcusable was the subsequent police rampage not only against peaceful protestors but also media representatives.

This was why “428” was also “A Day of Shame” both for police professionalism as well as Hishammuddin as Home Minister who could praise such police rampage of violence and brutality after 3 pm as commendable police “professionalism and restraint”.

This is why Hishammuddin’s statement about an independent panel to investigate allegations of police brutality against journalists and protestors has failed to evoked any confidence, credibility or legitimacy.

If such an independent investigation is to command confidence and legitimacy, it should be a Royal Commission of Inquiry to inquire into all cases of violence and brutality regardless of victim – whether police, journalist or protestor – and whose composition of membership should be the outcome of consultation and consensus involving the Barisan Nasional government, the Pakatan Rakyat opposition, as well as major national stakeholders including Suhakam, Bar Council and Bersih 2.0.

Bersih 3.0 of “428” was also “A Day of Shame” for Najib’s “Political Transformation” as police violence and brutality were worse in Bersih 3.0 than during Bersih 2.0 on July 9, 2011.

Until and unless Najib is prepared to make this acknowledgement, tender a public apology to all victims of police brutality and violence on “428”, establish a credible Royal Commission of Inquiry into the violence and brutality in Saturday’s Bersih 3.0 rally and ensure that the law is fairly and equally applied to all law-breakers including those in the police force, his promise of “political transformation” as well as other transformation programmes would have lost all credibility and legitimacy and be totally beyond redemption.

  1. #1 by cseng on Thursday, 3 May 2012 - 3:30 pm

    M’sian are colourfull, someday we are in green, some day in yellow, now we are in black… I like this colourfull spirits.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Thursday, 3 May 2012 - 3:37 pm

    What transformation is possible with a PM that seeked US$1b for Perimekar for a meeting? The amount indicate someone who has had a track record of ridiculous deals. There is no way Scorpene is isolated incident..

  3. #3 by Cinapek on Friday, 4 May 2012 - 12:20 am

    The IGP said…“Just because there are hooligans in the police force does not mean that the entire organization comprises of thugs.”

    Dear IGP, if only one or even two members of the press were assaulted (and it is still one too many) I can buy your excuse that hooliganism in the PDRM is isolated.

    But when a large number of very diverse press members including those from BBC and Al Jazeera are assaulted and some even brutally, what conclusions do you expect us to draw? You may be lacking in grey cells when you made that silly excuse but please do not insult our intelligence. If I am very generous , I would say that the large number of pressmen were assaulted because they were taking pictures of widespread police brutality against the rally participants. A large number of the police attacked them and destroyed their cameras to hide their misdeeds – not a few hooligans. At my worst, I would hazard that this widespread assault on the press was premeditated to hide a more sinister motive – to hide the truth of the assault on the participants.

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