Looking back at the events of the past few weeks, the Malaysian Government must realise and accept that neither random arrest, nor preventive detention, nor water cannons, nor tear gas, nor rain, nor the threat of any of the above and more, can quell the spirit of the people to exercise their rights to the twin freedoms of assembly and expression. The two rallies held on 9 July 2011 are eloquent testimony to the will of the people in the face of Government repression and police aggression.
The Malaysian Bar denounces the Government’s over-zealous and excessive show of power in its blatant determination to crush the people’s exercise of their Constitutionally-guaranteed fundamental rights. According to media and eyewitness accounts, the police used arbitrary, improper and disproportionate physical force, including assaulting some participants physically, wantonly arresting hundreds of individuals and recklessly using tear gas and water cannons on unarmed participants who were gathered in a peaceful and disciplined manner.
The Government must never abuse its power, particularly to undermine the very freedoms that it is responsible to uphold and defend. The elementary freedoms of assembly and expression entitle the rakyat to voice their concerns and grievances, and to call for redress.
The Malaysian Bar calls on the police to adhere to the United Nations (“UN”) Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, of which Malaysia is a member. Article 3 provides that “[l]aw enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty”. Furthermore, in 1990 Malaysia adopted the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which mandate that law enforcement officials “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force”, and may use force “only if other means remain ineffective”. Even when the use of lawful force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must “exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness to the offence”. Another basic principle is that “the deployment of non-lethal incapacitating weapons should be carefully evaluated in order to minimise the risk of endangering uninvolved persons, and the use of such weapons should be carefully controlled”.
The police reportedly fired several rounds of tear gas into the compound of a hospital along Jalan Pudu, one of many acts that day that were antithetical to these basic principles.
The Malaysian Bar calls for a thorough and independent investigation by SUHAKAM, by way of an inquiry on its own motion, into the use of aggression and undue force by the police. We acknowledge the co-operation given by the police to members of the Bar’s monitoring teams during the rallies. The Malaysian Bar will submit its report on the events of 9 July 2011, along with its recommendations, to the Inspector General of Police shortly.
We also urge the immediate and unconditional release of the six individuals who are still being detained under the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969. These individuals should be charged and tried in open court instead. Furthermore, their habeas corpus applications should be heard expeditiously and without further delay.
From lessons worldwide, it is clear that the voice of the people cannot be silenced. Our Government ignores the wishes and resolve of the people at its peril, and should, instead, rise to the occasion, to embrace and protect its people’s freedoms and rights consistent with a true democracy.
Lim Chee Wee
11 July 2011