A response to the report by the Bar Council monitoring team on the Bersih rally on 9 July 2011. The BC’s report can be found here.
I had been waiting for the Bar Council Monitoring Report on Bersih illegal demonstration since a young lawyer tweeted about it two days ago. Finally at 5pm yesterday, they finally loaded it up on their website.
I read the entire report with feverish enthusiasm. Luck was on my side. The report was not thick with legalese, otherwise lay men like me would not understand the exclusive language of the learned lawyers at Bar Council.
As I read it, my anticipation of an unadultered balanced report quickly evaporated into the thin air. I feel the report was one sided, incomplete, not thorough and at times comical. But then again one shouldn’t expect much from the esteemed Bar Council to be fair since they were judging the conduct of a former President of their own council. I reckon, no one likes to be called a traitor to friends.
The first sign of dissapointment came pretty early when the report started off by emphasizing the gist of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, “the right to freedom of assembly and expression as enshrined in Federal Consitution of Malaysia,” which the Bar Council said was in line with Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
I presume the report meant the UDHR’s Article 19 and 20 which say, respectively, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” and “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”
I always feel uncomfortable when legal fellas start their arguments this way. Why? Because they always conveniently skip the second part of the Article 10 of the Federal Constitution which states, “Parliament may by law, impose, on the right conferred by paragraph (b) of Clause (1), such restrictions as it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof, or public order.”
And you know what? That second part is also similarly fashioned after UDHR’s Article 29 (2), which states, “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”
Both Federal Constitution and UDHR have qualifying clauses to check the rights of speech and assembly. In other words, these rights are not absolute. Public order and morality take precedence over these rights in the interest of the security of the federation!
Obviously the question is who has the right to decide what constitutes “in the interest of the security of the Federation or public order”? Is it Ambiga? Is it Anwar Ibrahim? or Mat Sabu?
Sorry to burst your bubble but the only institution provided with the power to decide is none other than the men in blue, the Polis DiRaja Malaysia. They are in the business of maintaining public order. The police have, over the 204 years of its existence, gained valuable lessons in dealing and containing the communist insurgency, Indonesia’s Ganyang Malaysia campaign, Al Maunah, May 13th racial riot and religious fanaticism. In short, they know their stuffs.
One of the often cited observations in the report is the failure of the police to negotiate and to give ample warning to the protesters before using water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protestors.
What? Failure to negotiation and no ample warning?
Everyone knows that for weeks before the 9th of July, the police had been advising the public not to attend and participated in the illegal demonstration. It had warned the protestors that the police would take action against them if they did so. It also met and negotiated with Bersih’s leaders. Now, how much more warning and negotiation do you want?
Surprisingly, one of the things that the report didn’t touch was the inaccuracies surrounding Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s injury. On that day, many Bersih’s supporters sent text messages claiming Anwar was punched and hurt by the police. Finally, that claim was proven wrong when Anwar’s own bodyguard admitted that the injury was caused by the fall he took while fleeing the chaotic scene at KL Sentral.
Someone told me the bodyguard claimed that he had to push Anwar aside after he saw the police were training their tear gas guns at him. The question is, was it even possible for the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) to take aim at Anwar’s body or head when he was closely surrounded, body to body contact, by other protestors, three to four layers behind the front liners? I dont think so.
By the way, the standard way to shoot tear gas cannister is to hold the gun 45% degrees upward. That’s how the police lobby a tear gas canister into the crowd. But what goes up must come down. The lobbied canister had to land somewhere. If anyone got hit in the head or body, it is not because the police shot at them directly, it was just the law of gravity.
Talk about gravity of another sort. I was disspointed that the Bar Council Monitoring Teams did not report the gravity of the seditiousness of Bersih’s official video. The video clearly instigated the people to revolt ala Egypt and Tunisia revolution whose governments were overthrown by street protests. It even used the name Allah SWT to legitimize the demonstration. I think that seditious video was an important evidence to be included in the report, don’t you think?
I hate to say this, but I think the Bar Council Monitoring Teams must had gone home immediately after the demonstration. Otherwise how could they not reported the way the police treated the detained protestors. There were proofs of orderly statement taking process, provision of praying facility, warm hearty food and brotherly shake hands between the detained protestors and the policemen upon their release.
On the issue of the police shooting tear gas canisters directly at the Tung Shing hospital, the report seemed to confirm what Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Health had been saying all along – that the police fired tear gas cannisters VERY CLOSE to the Tung Shing Hospital (Point B.2.1). The report did not say the police fired into the hospital compounds.
Bar Council Monitoring Teams also reported that they saw protesters cheering police men on bikes? Cheering? Seriously? Or did you mean taunting? Did you watch the Youtube video where a senior PKR leader urged protestors to charge forward to confront stationary FRU personnel? I certainly didn’t see cheering in that video. All I saw was angry mobs being instigated by a irresponsible leader to attack policemen.
The report also mentioned how amazed the Monitoring Teams were, seeing a handful of restaurants and street vendors opened for business during the demonstration. To prove this claim, the report included two photos of ice cream men having a brisk sale. Yes, you heard me. Two ice cream men on motorcycles!
I almost fell off my chair!
How about the losses incurred by REAL businesses (some say running into miilions of ringgit), losses due to tourists cancelling their trips last minute, taxi driver losing fares and the long term damages afflicted to Malaysian economy which the government had been nurturing all these years? Certainly those are better indicators than the profits made by the two men selling ice cream on motorcycles!
Througout the report, the Bar Council Monitoring Teams criticised the protestors control strategy employed by the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) personnel when discharging their duties. Let’s look at some interesting points on the phsychology of protestors and how to control and manage them (Sorry this part is a bit lengthy. I sourced the info from various sites on the internet).
Actually the first step in protestors control is making sure a demonstration doesn’t happen in the first place.
But if it happens, the Police Commanders must always be aware of the possibility that some individuals or groups within an organized demonstration may have the intent to cause disruption, incite violence, destroy property, and provoke the authorities. Normally, tensions can build very quickly.
Being part of a crowd of people has certain effects on different people. Each individual in a crowd is susceptible to behaving in a way that is contrary to their normal behavior.
Some reasons for these behaviors are as follows:
The police have to be seen as being in charge and in control at all times.
The first step is simple intimidation. Riot officers stand in strict formations and act with military precision. Once they form echelons — lines of officers that effectively work as barriers — the officers tap their batons on their shields or stomp their feet in unison. The result can be quite frightening to unarmed civilians — it looks and sounds as if this group of armed and armored officers is getting ready to come crashing down with clubs swinging. In truth, this display is meant to scare off as many of the protestors as possible without the officers ever getting near them.
Police do not try to arrest every protestor. Their first targets are those who are leading the demonstration, because often the crowd will disperse without their leaders firing them up and encouraging them. All people who are spotted breaking a law are also targeted for arrest, especially if they injure or kill another person.
When it gets to the point where the police are actually in conflict with the protestors, the goal is still to disperse the crowd. A combination of advancing lines of officers and the use of tear gas and water cannon, is used to direct the crowd in a certain direction or keep them away from a certain area. The police will not allow protestors to build up in numbers in one single location where they could quickly and potentially be big enough to overpower the police. This is true even as their leaders are still negotiating with the police commander. For those protestors who stubbornly refuse to disperse even after given warning and tear gassed, the police would move in and make arrest, at times by force if neccesary.
These were the steps taken by the FRU on the 9th of July.
On a strange note, the report inserted The Bar Council’s call for the Government to abolish ISA and adopt recommendations of IPCMC (Independent Police Complaints and Misconducts Commission).
Well, I strongly believe those of us who were more inclined towards the abolishment of ISA previously, might think otherwise now. Thanks to the circus of the 9th of July by Bersih 2.0.
And as for the call to institute the IPCMC, the government had rejected the proposal before. In its place, Parliament passed the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) in 2009.
Dato Nazri Aziz, Minister in Prime Minister Department, in a reply to the opposition during the debate to pass the EAIC, had this to say, “the government rejected the proposal to set up an IPCMC because its powers were too broad and unconstitutional. It would have acted as investigator, prosecutor, judge, and executioner simultaneously which contravened principles found in the Federal Constitution and existing laws. The IPCMC’s powers to punish and indict would go against Articles 140 and 145 of the Federal Constitution”.
For once, I am happy to note that someone finally quoting the Federal Constitution correctly.
This post was previously published on the writer’s blog.