Thursday, November 13, 2008

Police in denial despite video evidence against them

Selangor Police Chief, Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar denied that the police made arrests a candlelight vigil held recently while the participants were singing the national anthem. [Malaysiakini, 10/11/08]

The infamous arrests of 24 citizens, including PJ Utara MP Tony Pua and Selangor executive councillor Ronnie Liu by the police received little praises from the public. The Royal Malaysian Police got down and dirty with the attendees of a candlelight vigil held in conjunction of the first anniversary of the BERSIH (Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections) movement, which started in November last year.

The authorities had reportedly deployed anti-riot personnels and a water canon truck to disperse the crowd; claiming the gathering was 'illegal' as it did not have a permit. True enough, the BERSIH gathering was 'illegal' by law. But the police has yet to explain their use of excessive force on a peaceful candlelight vigil and an MP who came in support of the gathering.

The night also saw a videographer from the news website, Malaysiakini being arrested by the police and his video camera confiscated. It was clear that the police did not want any press coverage on their latest operation against peaceful citizens as the videographer was the only representative from the media present at that time.

Read Royal Police the real threat to public order? for more details on the incident.

It was reported that the police brought in anti-riot personnels to quell the apparent 'unruly' crowd while they were singing the national anthem. Selangor Police Chief, Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar denied that the police had acted when the Negaraku was sung; saying it was a baseless claim by the participants of the gathering. It was understood that the incident was recorded by Shukri Mohamad, the Malaysiakini videographer who was subsequently arrested for 'being there'.

When the Selangor Police Chief was told that there was video proof on the allegations that the police had indeed arrested people while the Negaraku was sung, Khalid could only reply, "I deny it".

How does one deny an evidence? It is therefore an embarrassment for a police officer to come out and deny a misconduct despite evidences to prove it, let alone a high ranking official like Khalid.

However, the police could afford to dwell in denial as the only video evidence is in their hands after Shukri's video camera was seized during the crackdown. The police had also told reporters that the video camera will not be returned to the owner until the police have completed their investigations. Apparently, they need to 'look inside the camera' in order to assist in their probe.

This is a farce. What can the police possibly investigate further? Whether it's a Sony or a Panasonic? If the police would like to waste their time on investigating trivial matters, it would do the country some good if they could divert half of all that passion for C.S.I into solving real crimes and to help putting the plug on the escalating crime rates.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, however, defended the police for their actions at the BERSIH gathering. He said that the arrests made by the authorities were justified as it was required to maintain public order.

"In that situation, the police had to act as it is their responsibility to enforce the law and ensure public order is maintained," he told reporters at the parliament lobby. [The Malaysian Insider, 10/11/08]
Public order? Since when was the public in disorder during the gathering? For all that matters, the gathering only became disorderly when the police decided to handle a bunch of candle-holding, anthem-singing people as looting rioters.

Nonetheless, the real concern lies not in the seizure of Sony video cameras but the perplexing inability of the police to discern and grasp the difference of a peaceful gathering and a full-steam street riot.

Perhaps the Selangor Police Chief had thought that the public should not be playing with fire as candlelight vigils are prone to intensify into bush fires. That would probably explain the water cannon truck.