The United Nations in Malaysia would like to refer to the article published in The Star newspaper on May 7, 2012 titled “Police: Tear gas used at rally safe, UN-approved’.
We very much regret that the UN in Malaysia was not consulted before the publication of this article as it contains serious inaccuracies. The UN has consistently condemned the excessive use of force, including through the use of tear gas.
Please also note that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council have on various occasions publicly expressed concerns about reliable reports indicating that civilians who died from tear gas suffered complications from gas inhalation, and that security forces have been firing metal tear gas canisters from grenade launchers into crowds.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression after his mission to the Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) in December 2011 noted that "while the use of tear gas to disperse a crowd may be legitimate under certain circumstances, tear gas canisters should never be fired directly at demonstrators."
Moreover, unlike what is alleged in the article, the UN does not set international standards on different kinds of irritants, nor has the UN approved ‘CS Gas’ as a ‘riot control’ agent.
Journalists AND public officials should be professional
As far as the use of force is concerned, the relevant UN instrument is the Basic Principles on the use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which was adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in 1990, not the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of 1993. I provide its general provisions below:
1. Governments and law enforcement agencies shall adopt and implement rules and regulations on the use of force and firearms against persons by law enforcement officials. In developing such rules and regulations, Governments and law enforcement agencies shall keep the ethical issues associated with the use of force and firearms constantly under review.
2. Governments and law enforcement agencies should develop a range of means as broad as possible and equip law enforcement officials with various types of weapons and ammunition that would allow for a differentiated use of force and firearms. These should include the development of non-lethal incapacitating weapons for use in appropriate situations, with a view to increasingly restraining the application of means capable of causing death or injury to persons. For the same purpose, it should also be possible for law enforcement officials to be equipped with self-defensive equipment such as shields, helmets, bullet-proof vests and bullet-proof means of transportation, in order to decrease the need to use weapons of any kind.
3. The development and deployment of non-lethal incapacitating weapons should be carefully evaluated in order to minimize the risk of endangering uninvolved persons, and the use of such weapons should be carefully controlled.
4. Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.
5. Whenever the lawful use of force and firearms is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall:
( a ) Exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence and the legitimate objective to be achieved;
( b ) Minimize damage and injury, and respect and preserve human life;
( c ) Ensure that assistance and medical aid are rendered to any injured or affected persons at the earliest possible moment;
( d ) Ensure that relatives or close friends of the injured or affected person are notified at the earliest possible moment.
6. Where injury or death is caused by the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials, they shall report the incident promptly to their superiors, in accordance with principle 22.
7. Governments shall ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offence under their law.
8. Exceptional circumstances such as internal political instability or any other public emergency may not be invoked to justify any departure from these basic principles.
We at the United Nations appeal to all journalists to correctly and accurately research and report all matters and procedures related to the UN. We believe that such professionalism should also extend to all public officials.
Dr Lin Mui Kiang is the United Nations Coordination Specialist, Malaysia
The Middle East’s leading TV News Service, Al Jazeera, has given its own appalled reaction to the discovery that its coverage of Saturday’s Bersih 3.0 rally may have also have been doctored by Malaysia’s Astro satellite station.
In an uncompromising statement a spokesman today declared:
“We have not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world.”
The statement has added to the growing international outrage over Malaysia’s authoritarian censorship rules, in a country that poses as a democracy.
The BBC, who discovered its own report of the day’s events was covertly edited, has launched its own legal and editorial enquiry into the incident and is said to be taking the matter “extremely seriously indeed”, according to one insider.
Menaced by police - Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett speaking to camera shortly before his equipment was smashed
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera meanwhile, now has reason to believe that its extensive coverage of the Bersih rally was also interfered with.
The station had sent it’s English language reporter Harry Fawcett onto the ground in KL, covering the rally and providing on the spot interviews.
Much of his material was dramatic and showed a number of cases of excessive use of force by the police against demonstrators.
As he spoke to camera, police officers could be seen hovering at the reporter’s shoulder and eventually he reported that they smashed his equipment to the ground – one of several attacks reported against news crews by police.
Fawcett’s report had concluded on an even handed note, suggesting that both sides had matters to regret over the direction of events. Yet the station is believed to have received information from a number of sources that Astro censored its coverage.
Today Al Jazeera’s English Spokesman released this official statement:
“We will be asking Astro for an explanation as to why Harry Fawcett’s report of the rally in Malaysia was apparently censored. If Astro are indeed saying that it breached “local content regulations”, they would need to outline exactly what these alleged breaches were and how they arrived at their decision.
“As we understand it, the censoring was not made clear to viewers when it happened. We have had no communication on this incident from Astro either.
“Our news report was a factual account of events that day, and intrusion in our editorial process is unwarranted. We have not been censored in this way by another distribution platform anywhere in the world.”
Exclusive licence for Astro in Malaysia
Al Jazeera’s accusation that Malaysia’s censorship system is the most authoritarian they have experienced anywhere in the worldis a particularly stinging indictment of a regime that has spent hundreds of millions on cultivating its international image.
In fact it has long been the case that only pro-government organisations ever qualify for print or media licences in Malaysia and that these all slavishly adopt a pro-government stance on each and every issue.
Astro itself is run by the pro-BN crony billionaire Ananda Krishnan and it has been given exclusive rights by the government to act as the sole platform carrying 24 hour news channels, like the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera to viewers in Malaysia.
In its own defence Astro this week admitted that it is only allowed to operate in accordance with “National Content Regulations”, which media organisations are supposed to put into practice through ‘self-censorship’.
The Al Jazeera statement demands to know what these content regulations consist of and how breaches are assessed? The station is clearly particularly outraged at Astro’s opinion that it is entitled to censor news reports without even informing either the news channel or viewers! [see Astro statement].
Sarawak Report can now reveal for the first time just how the sinister and arbitrary system of TV News censorship works at Astro. Sources have revealed that the satellite station employs people round the clock under the job title “News Control”.
Astro’s “News Controllers” have the editorial responsibility of scouring all the news coming in and demanding edits on anything they judge to be contrary to the Home Ministry censorship rules!
“They do four hour shifts, monitoring news output particularly from CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera, and deciding if anything is not to go to air”, explained our source.
For reputable broadcasters like Al Jazeera, this means that objective reports can be turned into biased reports, but that Malaysian viewers are given the deliberate impression that this was the actual voice of the international news station.
If the BBC and Al Jazeera have knowingly entered into commercial agreements that permitted such tampering the reputational issues could be highly damaging.
However, it is most likely that it is Malaysia’s secretive authoritarianism that has been at last fully exposed by this shameful incident.
Harry Fawcett tweeting today about his outrage over his treatment at the Bersih rally and the censorship of his report
Today the British MP Tom Greatrex, a member of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Malaysia made his own statement deploring the tampering of BBC News by Malaysia:
“Freedom of expression is a vital element of any democracy.
For people all across the globe, the BBC World Service is a vital lifeline in the search for truth.
William Hague [Foreign Secretary] must make it clear in no uncertain terms to the Malaysian government that it is entirely unacceptable to censor the BBC.”
Weighty document - so many things are censored, but it comes down to one main thing. Don't allow anything the BN government might not like!
Sarawak Report has been unable to reach Astro Channel’s communications officers today.
We have been requesting both a copy of the National Content Regulations which they are forced to abide by and to learn exactly what their criteria for censoring material is.
Censorship is regarded as an extremely serious issue in most countries.
However, documents that we have obtained showing the Home Ministry’s rules on Film Censorship, give the impression that in Malaysia the restrictions are wide-ranging and arbitrary and apply to anything that might be construed as undesirable by the ruling political regime!
The first main category of 4 areas of censorship outlined by the Government refers to ‘matters of security and public order’.
The list of offences makes clear that anything that criticises or shows the government or its agents in a bad light is to be censored. Under such a heading bad behaviour by police officers during the Bersih rally would certainly be included!
Nothing that contradicts the policies of the government should be allowed!
Nothing that shows the government or its agents in a bad light either!
Under such rules it is plain that censorship should apply to anything that reveals corruption, illegality, stupidity or misbehaviour on the part of the BN government or anyone working for it.
It is clear that Malaysia, which poses as a democracy, has censorship laws that would befit the most authoritarian and dictatorial states in the world!
Should Al Jazeera and the BBC and CNN be allowing their news broadcasts to pass through such 3rd party censorship without them even being told when these rules have been applied?
The recent events at the Bersih 3.0 protest have confirmed the view of many Malaysians that the Umno/BN government has lost the moral right to continue to govern this country and is not fit to govern the country beyond the 13th General Election.
After 55 years of near total authoritarian rule with the systemic destruction, if not corruption and abuse of virtually every institution and organ of state, Umno/BN is incapable of genuine reform or change because of the overwhelming existence of vested interests within the party and the government.
Umno/BN today is all about staying in power purportedly with the aim to protect and serve Malay interest in particular and the legitimate interests of the other races. It has long advocated a policy of well modulated discontent among the races. In the process, our political, economic and social development has become stunted since the 1970s with the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP). We have regressed compared to South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The government’s reaction to Bersih 3.0 was predictable and it clearly shows the abject failure or deceit of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s so-called political transformation programme. A transformation cannot occur if the government still wants to control and direct what we say and what we do through overt and covert means.
It cannot happen if institutions like the police, the civil service, the Election Commission (EC), the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the judiciary are perceived to be biased and corrupt. For a transformation to occur, the people in these institutions must change their mindset of being subservient to the dictates of the ruling elite; demonstrate integrity and professionalism; and act independently and impartially even in the face of criticism, demands and improper pressure from the government and influential persons connected to the establishment.
Sadly, this culture of accountability and transparency is missing in our institutions since most are incapable of distinguishing between the government and the ruling party. Corruption and abuses has become a way of life and seen to be justified even in the face of strict Islamic prohibitions simply because the leadership practices it any way and it is seen as a means to uplift one’s financial status and well being in order to compete with the Chinese who are perceived to be economically dominant.
Inability to compete on a level playing field
Corruption in Malaysia today guarantees upward mobility and entry into elite circles rather than achievement, individual effort and hard work. Umno/BN practices this as an art form. It is evident and clear to all that our ministers and their families clearly live beyond their means and yet this is permitted and accepted as a manifestation of the entitlement to privilege which is supposedly part and parcel of leadership and of the need to display Malay social success in the face of the economically advanced Chinese.
Again it goes to an ingrained sense of inferiority and inability to compete on a level playing field. And to compound matters further cronies of the ruling elite who do not have the ability or capability to deliver are often rewarded for their loyalty to Umno/BN through mega-projects, special licenses, share allotments, favourable loans and credits and numerous bail-outs at the expense of the taxpayer and to the detriment of the economy and its competitiveness. The beneficiaries are not the ordinary poor Malays in the kampongs and villages but the elite clothed in a life of luxury, privilege and extravagance.
But sadly, through the total control of the mainstream media, the majority of Malays and less educated and exposed segments of the population continue to believe and support Umno/BN as the natural party of government and as the defender of the Malay race, the Malay Rulers and of Islam. What they fail to see is the abuses and corruption that is openly and defiantly practiced in their name and the enormous benefits that accrue to the ruling elite, their families and cronies.
The events at the Bersih 3.0 rally have clearly established the total failure and negation of democracy in this country. We have since at least 1964 been practising a truncated form of democracy with scant regard for constitutional freedoms and the rule of law. This became worse after the May 13, 1969 communal riots and was systematically eroded further under the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
It was this so-called leader who singularly undermined and weakened the key institutions under our constitutional system of government notably the Malay Rulers, the judiciary and the civil service. The print and broadcasting media become totally subservient to the interests of the ruling party as opposed to being impartial and professional.
This subjugation and corruption of the democratic process extended to the EC and the police who were roped in to suppress dissent and subvert opposition to the government through the use of the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) and the plethora of Emergency laws.
The widely acknowledged ‘Project M’ in Sabah to depose the democratically elected Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) government in 1994 through the granting of citizenship and voting rights to illegal immigrants in the state and through the bribery and intimidation of elected PBS assemblymen was the brainchild of Umno/BN to ensure Umno hegemony over the state to the exclusion of the Kadazan-Dusun majority.
What if EC chief and deputy are from PAS, PKR or the DAP?
A similar game plan was affected in Perak in 2009, this time with the tacit support of the palace despite a clear preference of the Perak voters for the Opposition pact in the state. Therefore, Umno/BN is no respecter of democracy and the rule of law.
The recent revelation that the chairman and deputy chairman of the EC were or are members of Umno only confirms the long held view that the majority of senior civil servants become members of Umno or are forced to do so in order to get promotions and lucrative appointments post-retirement in government linked companies (GLCs), corporate and public bodies.
The EC just like the judiciary is expected to be politically neutral, objective, impartial and full of integrity so that it can instil public confidence in the system. But to have members who belong or have belonged to the ruling party only destroys public trust and confidence in these institutions. It is like going to Court and finding out that the judge has decided to join the other side.
Is that fair? Instead of resigning the chairman and deputy chairman of the EC are defending the indefensible. The real test of bias is not actual bias but a perception of bias. But for people like the despotic Mahathir Mohamad, this is acceptable so long as the government can control these institutions. Would Umno/BN be happy if the EC chairman and deputy chairman were members of PAS, PKR or the DAP?
For Umno it is always about power and staying in control. Umno firmly believes that this country is its personal fiefdom to do as it deems fit. Malaysia, in Umno’s perception cannot function without it and that the country and party are one and the same. Umno to them is Malay and Malay means being Umno.
These attitudes are further reinforced by the subservient nature of the Malay Rulers towards Umno as their natural defenders and not the Malay race or the population in general even after Umno denigrated and abused them both in public and private during the 1983 and 1992 constitutional crisis.
For the royal houses their powers, status, privileges and wealth is dependent on the generosity and largesse of Umno. This is hardly, consonant with the high office that they occupy, and the dignified role that they are supposed to play under our system of constitutional monarchy.
Given the nature of our democracy as defined by Umno/BN, it is not surprising that no public displays of protest can be countenanced by the ruling elite unless it is in support of the regime. The police can be counted on at all times by the government to preserve public order and security because this is defined as protecting the interests of the ruling party in government.
Merdeka Square is not sacrosanct
It is not about law and order but all about political expediency and instilling fear. Despotic regimes thrive on fear, intimidation and control and that is how Umno has survived since 1969. At Bersih 3.0 the police reacted with such violence and brutality in scenes not seen since the rise of fascist regimes in Germany and Italy in the late 1930s and in the Communist regimes of the Cold War post 1945, simply because the protestors were brave enough to challenge the authority and power of the government.
The Merdeka Square is not sacrosanct in any sense of the word. It is not the royal palace or the houses of parliament; it is not a place of worship; it is not a law court; and it is not a hospital or a school. Why shouldn’t the people be allowed to protest at or even occupy this square if they see it fit to do so? The Constitution does not limit the right to assemble peacefully without arms only to stadiums and such other places as designated by the government.
The limits placed on this right in the interests of public order, safety, morality and economic well being must be proportionate to the exercise of this fundamental right and not to render it illusory or nugatory. The Peaceful Assembly Act 2011 does the latter. It is a piece of worthless legislation designed to deceive the people about Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s reform agenda.
It is still all about control and obstruction. The police obtaining an unlawful ex-parte Court order under the Criminal Procedure Code from some inexperienced Magistrate at the eleventh hour without any iota of evidence apart from presumptions and suppositions that the protest at the Merdeka Square will be a serious threat to peace, order and security, speaks volumes of the government’s sincerity about giving the people greater freedom.
It also proves that despite the repeal of archaic laws and the Emergency proclamations and ordinances, including the much despised ISA, the executive and the police have a plethora of other laws to obstruct and control the exercise of democratic rights in this country. This only proves the piecemeal and harried nature of Najib’s reforms simply to meet the deadline of the 13th General Election.
While none of us would condone or support violence towards the police and destruction of property, the reasons for this must be investigated by an independent and impartial body like a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI). It is pointless asking the Attorney General or police to investigate as neither body commands any respect or public confidence and the police who are accusing the protestors of violence cannot possibly conduct any impartial or objective investigation into the incident.
But the fact remains that the protestors were unarmed and largely peaceful until the end of the rally. Even if certain Opposition leaders instigated a segment of the protestors to breach the barricade, does that one act alone justify the police in reacting in such a brutal and violent manner to apprehend the protestors including those who were not involved in breaching the barricade and who happened to be leaving the area?
The police prima facie showed total lack of discipline and professionalism in handling the crowd especially when they breached the barricade. From the previous Bersih rallies in 2007 and 2011 and the Hindraf demonstration in 2007, it is obvious that the police think that they can be aggressive, violent, brutal and inhumane with the utmost impunity because they are beyond the law and beyond reproach. Who do the people go to if they want to complain against the police?
We are still an authoritarian state
Umno/BN refuses to have the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to oversee the police simply because the police was and is the government’s first line of defence even against its own people and the government wants to protect the police from widespread allegations of corruption, abuse and incompetence. The media on the other hand is totally controlled to the point that there is no journalistic integrity and standards whatsoever and the public have lost all trust in the mainstream media.
The fact that the Home Minister still wields such wide powers over the media despite amendments to the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 proves that we are still an authoritarian state where the government determines what we can read, watch, hear and see. The media reforms will only be meaningful if the government stops licensing and regulating the media. Any interested party should be allowed to print, publish and broadcast so long as they do not advocate or instil racial or religious hatred.
Public protests on the streets should be allowed provided they are policed well. Last summer while in Europe I witnessed four street protests in Riga, Prague, Budapest and Vienna, the police facilitated the protests by guiding the marches through designated routes and controlled the traffic. Shops and business were still open and functioned as normal.
Only in Malaysia, our police are incapable of conducting and controlling street protests simply because the police instigate the violence most of the time so that the mainstream media can get stories and pictures of “violence and disorder on the streets” with the aim to influence and intimidate the viewers and readers who are voters to support Umno/BN as the party of law and order since the government abhors any display of public dissent and protest in this country.
This message tends to resonate with the rural Malay voters who still think that RTM, TV3, Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian peddle the absolute truth. So is Umno/BN no different from any other communist or fascist regime in the world? The answer is a clear yes.
The idiocy of the political elite is beyond belief especially the statements coming from ministers and NGOs supportive of the government regarding the Bersih 3.0 rally. They are behaving as if the world as we know it has come to an end, meaning their world of systemic corruption, abuse, extravagance and privilege in the tranquil safety and security provided by the police.
But nothing beats the “Communist bogeyman” being resurrected from the dead by the former Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Haniff Omar, that scion of the elite who sits on numerous boards of public listed companies, who is a well known voice of Umno/BN.
The stupidity of his statement is astounding. It would suggest that Chin Peng was hiding amongst the crowd and that the majority of the protestors were in their sixties who returned from China, Thailand or the Malayan jungles to infiltrate the protest. Why not resurrect remote figures in history such as Hitler or Mussolini and argue that they masterminded Bersih 3.0 from beyond the grave?
The writing is on the wall for Umno/BN. Street protests brought down regimes in many countries in the past from Russia to Libya recently. Even in neighbouring Indonesia and the Philippines. While we may not be like them in many respects, but the underlying reasons were injustice, corruption, abuses of power and elitism. These are common to Malaysia as well.
A disguised democracy is still a failed democracy. Our people are mature beyond the wildest imagination or expectation of Umno/BN and democracy is not an exercise in maturity or rationality. It is about freedom, justice and fairness. Let us be inspired by the events of the French Revolution because if not for the storming of the barricades around the Bastille, the world would not have heard about liberty, equality and fraternity.