From Malaysia: Police stop public talk on electoral reform; two shot

September 18, 2007

Alert – Malaysia
18 September 2007
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Police stop public talk on electoral reform; two shot in resulting
violence

On 8 September 2007, Malaysian police prevented a road show in the
northeastern state of Terengganu calling for electoral reform in
the country, resulting in a riot that saw two people seriously
wounded after they were shot by a police officer.

Police rejected the permit application for the outdoor talk one day
before it was scheduled to be held in the state capital Kuala
Terengganu, angering the people who had turned up to seek
information about weaknesses in the electoral process. Police
sprayed the crowd with chemical-laced water and tear gas. An
officer fired live rounds from his pistol, allegedly in
self-defence after he was cornered and beaten with sticks. His
shots hit two people, Suwandi Abdul Ghani, 37, and Muhamad Azman
Aziz, 21, on the chest and neck, respectively. They have been
hospitalised and are recovering from the ordeal.

SEAPA is concerned at the high-handed police action against what is
basically the people’s exercise of their right to information.
Further, there appears to be a concerted effort by the authorities
to prevent independent coverage of the fracas. Online daily
“Malaysiakini” reports that cameras of photographers were allegedly
confiscated and reporters barred from entering the area. Police
also detained a journalist, Suhaimi Taib, who works for the
opposition party web broadcaster PAS TV, and 23 others.

Suhaimi and 19 of those detained were released the same night while
the remaining four have been remanded for attending an “illegal
assembly”.

The electoral reform talk, organised by BERSIH, a coalition of
non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and opposition
parties, has been held in other parts of the country without
attracting any untoward incident. The country is expected to hold
general elections in early 2008.

SEAPA supports our Malaysian partner, the Centre for Independent
Journalism (CIJ), in calling for an open and independent
investigation into the incident and for a review or repeal of laws
restricting the freedoms of speech and assembly.

The Malaysian Federal Constitution guarantees the right to freedom
of speech and expression. However, it also allows Parliament to
impose restrictions on freedom of expression in the interest of
security. This freedom is further limited by the 1958 Public Order
(Preservation) Ordinance and 1967 Police Act (Amendments 1988)
which allow the police to refuse any public assembly or gathering
on reasons of security.

It was disturbing that a public gathering “to air legitimate
grievances” was met with violence, said CIJ in an 11 September
release ( http://clicks.aweber.com/z/ct/?Wg85kxvaoyBCv15bBuEbfw ).
The media freedom watchdog is concerned that the denial of the
public’s right to assembly may have brought about confrontations
that could have been avoided.

————————————————————
Southeast Asian Press Alliance.
538/1 Samsen Rd., Dusit, Bangkok 10300.
Tel: 66-2-2435579, 66-2-2435373, Fax: 66-2-2448749

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