PETALING JAYA, July 8 — Poll reform group Bersih and Suaram today reiterated the need for an independent body to hear charges of police brutality amid charges of heavy-handed policing in the June 22 anti-Lynas protest in Kuantan.
Rights groups have been calling for the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to be set up in order to curb indiscipline and abuse of power in the country’s police force after the rising numbers of deaths in police custody.
Among the 16 people due to be charged in court for their part in the protest, three were beaten up by police. One of them was injured so badly, that he had to be admitted to the intensive care unit at the Kuantan Hospital, according to Bersih steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah.
“According to protesters, plainclothes police personnel set upon those who could not manage to disperse immediately after the warning was issued
“Three were beaten up badly. One so brutally that he had to be admitted to the ICU and was later diagnosed for cerebral concussion,” Maria told reporters at a press conference.
The Bersih leader claimed the attackers were merciless and had even used weapons including a brass knuckle.
“We’ve never experienced iron knuckles before as protesters. The Home Minister needs to take responsibility for this. The IPCMC must be implemented immediately,” Maria said.
The Bersih leader also noted that the absence of an oversight body was akin to giving the police licence to commit violence.
“A lot of effort and money have been spent on this and yet the authorities have been reluctant to see it through. Now we know why (this) gives licence to the police to commit violence,” she said.
Rights groups and the opposition have long campaigned for the setting up of the IPCMC following dozens of complaints against Malaysia that include serious cases like deaths in custody and extrajudicial killings.
But the government refused to entertain the demand for the IPCMC, and had instead set up the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) although critics said the body was too small to keep watch over the huge number of enforcement agencies in the country.
Meanwhile, Suaram executive director Yap Swee Seng claimed the police are now using a different law to crack down on protestors after the Court of Appeal ruled it unconstitutional to criminalise those who participate in public assemblies.
“(The other thing we want to highlight is that) since the Court of Appeal in the Nik Nazmi case has upheld the constitutional right to freedom of assembly, the police are now using the Penal Code to curb this right again.
“We see this as an attempt by the police to subvert the judgement of the Court of Appeal,” Yap told the press conference.
PKR Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Ahmad earned a landmark victory when the Court of Appeal ruled it unconstitutional to criminalise spontaneous public assemblies in breach of the 10-day notice required under Section 9 (1) of the Peaceful Assembly Act.
He was, however, charged for the same offence just ten days after the ruling, a move rights groups described as a clear cut case of political prosecution.
Yap and Maria said they are now compiling and submitting evidence to Suhakam and are pushing for public inquiry into the matter.
On June 22, about 800 to 1,000 people had reportedly shown up at the Himpunan Hijau rally called “622 Shutdown Lynas” outside the Australian miner’s plant in a bid to shut it down.
The police later arrested 16 of them — including Himpunan Hijau’s leader Wong Tack, Teluk Intan DAP chief Hew Kuan Yau who carries the nickname “Superman” and Kiwi activist Natalie Lowrey — after they failed to comply with a police order to disperse.
Of the 16 arrested, 15 were released on police bail a day later, while Lowrey who has returned to Australia was only released on June 27.
* An earlier version of this story erroneously referred to Natalie Lowrey as an Australian. The error has since been corrected. Malay Mail Online apologises for the unintentional mistake.