Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cop: Use of excessive force was wrong

Teoh El Sen | July 13, 2011

There were special police teams who were already targeting those leaders behind the rally, such as Bersih chairman S Ambiga, says a policeman.


KUALA LUMPUR: The police force has been denying the use of violence during the Bersih 2.0 march on July 9. But among them is one lone voice who condemned the use of violence on the protesters.

A brave policeman said the use of excessive force when arresting Bersih 2.0 marchers was uncalled for and wrong.

The policeman who was in charge of making arrest spoke to FMT on condition of anonymity.

“Those policemen who hit the people are in the wrong. They can actually be charged… Even if you want to say you were forced to do it, that you were attacked first, it should not reach such a stage as what we’re seeing in the video footages.”

“Usually when we make arrests, the most we do if the person struggles and fights back is to make him lie down and use our knees to stop him. Not continue to beat or kick him, even after you handcuff him. That is wrong.”

He said on that day, he witnessed groups of policemen crowding around a suspect and hitting him, with some even using batons.

Asked if there were any instructions from the top to start using force on demonstrators, he said that the orders did not from the top officer who briefed them a week before the rally.

“But there were other high-ranking officers who told us to just hit if we felt like (the situation warranted it ), using violence. However, we were also told to assess the situation and the location before using violence ,” said the policeman.

The policeman said that he himself did not agree with hitting people and he refrained from using too much force.

“Also, there are a lot of people taking photos including our own photographers. We have to think properly before we do something like that; we could be charged in court and I am not sure if my superiors would defend me if I did something like that,” he said.

Pressure and stress

Explaining why he thought many policemen were seen using excessive force, the policeman said the amount of pressure and stress could have been a factor.

“There were many who were frustrated, tired, and hungry that day. We had very little sleep and had to be on standby early in the morning and were without food until late in the afternoon. There is also a lot of pressure from our superiors… and when things start to unfold, you become different, angry,” he said.

The policeman said the previous Sunday and Monday, the team of more than 1,000 in the “arrest squads” were briefed by Bukit Aman criminal investigation department director Mohd Bakri Zinin.

“We were told ‘don’t be afraid, just arrest’.”

“We were ordered to arrest those wearing yellow T-shirts and those who refused to disperse when ordered, including those who fought back or insulted the police,” the policeman said, adding that policemen were roped in from all the states except Sabah and Sarawak.

He said that in the police crackdown, there were two types of arrests – arrests of quality and without quality.

“Those from the first category were those who wore Bersih T-shirts or those VIPs or leaders of the rally. They were brought to the Jinjang police station.”

“Those from the non-quality category were brought to the Police Training Centre (Pulapol) on Jalan Semarak. They were mostly protesters who refused to disperse and were brought there for documentation,” he said.

He said “arrest squads” consisted of teams of at least five people comprising one officer, three detectives and one photographer.

He added that the photographers, about 150 of them on that day, were there to capture photos of the protesters before and during the arrests, because previously many cases failed when brought to court due to a lack of photographic evidence.

“There were also some taking video. That is also why Home Minister (Hishammuddin Hussein) said that he has photographs and video evidence of almost all the action on that day, because we really have them,” he said.

Different instructions

There were special teams who were already targeting those leaders behind the rally, such as Bersih chairman S Ambiga.

On allegations that FRU personnel were shooting tear gas directly at the people, he said policemen are not supposed to do that. “That’s not right,” he said.

“We were also told if we feel like arresting, then just arrest. But the problem was there were a lot different superiors giving different instructions,” he said, adding that any policeman, regardless of rank, could make an arrest after telling the person to disperse.

He said that on Saturday, the strategy was to shoot tear gas and spray chemical-laced water from water cannons before the arrest squads moved in to make the arrests during the chaos.

“If we just went in like that, matilah kita, there were so many of protesters”.

However, he said at the end of the day “we are just doing our job, that’s all”.

“There is also too much pressure from third parties. The home ministry applies pressure on the police and police in turn pile the pressure on their men. The police should actually act under the King. It’s very hard like that,” he said.

He added that there are actually quite a number of policemen who support Bersih 2.0.

“I think I support the cause, too, but we’re just doing our jobs, right? There are actually many, even among officers, but we’re all under the home ministry. What can we do? Even when we receive those postal ballots, we already have our names on the letters, how can we vote for the opposition?”

On July 9, police fired tear gas and hosed down tens of thousands of Bersih supporters who took to the streets calling on the government to reform the election processes. A total of 1,667 people were arrested, said to be the largest haul of protesters in one single day in the history of the country.

Bersih estimated the turnout to be 50,000 and condemned police heavy-handedness which led to severe injuries, and a loss of life.

There have also been numerous photographs and videos surfacing online of instances of police beating protesters before arresting them. In one controversial case, the police are also alleged to have fired tear gas into the compound of a maternity hospital.

However, the police, who estimated the crowd at only 5,000 to 6,000, have consistently denied that excessive force has been used during the demonstration.

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