If you can only read one article, read this…
Members of the Bar have responded to criticism of the Bar’s condemnation of police brutality at the recent Bersih rally The full response has been republished at better news sites, from a posting at Loyar Buruk » Fallacies Spun by Critics of the Bar It is summarised below.
The response is in answer to lawyer Roger Tan’s piece last week » Unswayed by fear or favour in the Sunday Star, under the standfirst “As much as we do not like the judiciary to be perceived as pro-government, we also do not want the Bar to be perceived as pro-opposition.” (Roger did not support the resolution.)
SUMMARY of the response endorsed by Edmund Bon, Fahri Azzat, Janet Chai, K Shanmuga, Mahaletchumy Balakrishnan, Marcus van Geyzel, Seira Sacha Abu Bakar, and Sharmila Sekaran:
The Bar Council and the Malaysian Bar have been criticised recently as being pro-Opposition [because of its stand] regarding the police brutality at the Bersih 3.0 sit-down rally. Critics of the Bar [say] the Bar was not fair, or even-handed, being more critical of the police than it was of the other parties involved.
- The Bar in condemning the police brutality must be equally aggressive in its condemnation against the protestors who “behaved like rioters and anarchists”.
- The Bar had prejudged the issues [and had] “already come to a conclusion that all those acts listed therein had been committed by the police”.
- The Bar should have demanded an apology from Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim because “it was his men who were reportedly the ones who removed the barrier” which was “the trigger point”.
Roger says that the Bar should only pass the resolution … after a finding by an independent body such as SUHAKAM. However, SUHAKAM relies often conducts a hearing several months after the event. The Bar based its stance and resolution on the observations of 80 lawyers who formed a team of observers of events during Bersih 3.0. Their observations were recorded and compiled within hours on the day itself… We have no reason to doubt the credibility and observations of the team.
Arif Kartono of the Malay Mail
Many other eyewitness accounts have emerged, including photos and videos that speak for themselves. Significantly, on this occasion, even media members were not spared. We even had the embarrassing incident where Al-Jazeera’s reporter Harry Fawcett had to report via Skype from his iPad as his team’s video camera was smashed by police while they were recording police brutality against protestors.
Many previous SUHAKAM inquiries [in 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2008] found excessive use of force by the police, and evidence of police brutality. There is a pattern of regular use of excessive force and brutality in violation of human rights by the Royal Malaysian Police [which] have not made any serious attempts to school themselves in the prevention of human rights violations.
Roger is sceptical of [the Bar’s] 80 monitors because he “would certainly like to know their political inclinations” to satisfy himself that they “were independent-minded”. Firstly, five widely-respected senior members of the Bar, who were a part of a “roving” team of monitors, were named and had their observations separately documented: Christopher Leong (Vice President of the Malaysian Bar), Steven Thiru (Treasurer of the Bar Council), Dato’ Ramachelvam Manimuthu, Ramdas Tikamdas, and Roger Chan Weng Keng.
More importantly, what does one’s political inclination have to do with stating a fact about whether Malaysian citizens were assaulted and battered by the police, and whether there was excessive use of force in accordance with international human rights standards?
[Roger’s] flippant remarks greatly disparage those members of the Bar who volunteered to serve on the monitoring team… It is part of our job as lawyers to put aside our personal prejudice in order to advance the cause of justice.
Roger himself does not reveal his strong affiliations to a particular political party. … perhaps commentators in The Star should also be required to divulge their political affiliations and leanings before their opinion pieces are published. (Roger Tan is affiliated with the MCA – Ed.)
Obsession with Anwar Ibrahim
Roger insists that the Bar should demand an apology from Dato’ Seri Anwar because he was reported to have instigated the removal of the barrier … [but] no one on the Bar’s monitoring team witnessed [the Anwar incident]… there has been no compelling evidence either way to show who removed the barriers… On what basis is Roger suggesting that the Bar demand an apology from Dato’ Seri Anwar?
The Bar’s resolution was on police misconduct, and not about who removed the barrier; it is even more disconcerting that Roger implies that the police may excessively and disproportionally tear-gas and beat the innocent just to get at those who did breach the barrier.
The Bar need not have condemned the protestors
Many labour under the misapprehension that to be “independent” an organisation must always be even handed and restrained in one’s remarks. But that is a fallacy. And it is an even greater fallacy when it concerns injustice.
Police brutality is a violation of a human right. A violation of any human right is manifest injustice. Police brutality per se is an injustice. The presence of police brutality has tainted the Royal Malaysian Police as surely as a drop of blood stains a uniform….the Royal Malaysian Police are kept to higher standards than lay members of the public. So the Bar cannot be swayed by fear or favour… It is State against the individual person, and the Bar stands – must stand – for the latter.
It is only those who are so immersed and drenched in politics that adopt a worldview [that condemnation of police brutality amounts to an endorsement of the Opposition].
The Bar’s resolution was proper
The Bar was entitled and correct to issue the statements it did, and to pass the resolution it did…the comments against the resolution are the isolated voices of a few in the wilderness given undue prominence by propaganda organisations posing as the mass media.
The actions of some members of the police force on that day were incidences of injustice that were so blatant that it should be impossible for anyone who purports to stand up for justice to remain silent. We have already seen concerted efforts to distract from the injustice by attacking the Bar and casting aspersions on those reporting what they saw with their own eyes.
The Bar must continue to fight for those who cannot speak up for themselves, and whose rights are oppressed by the might of the State. That is our duty, and one that we hope members of the Bar will continue to discharge without fear or favour.
Edmund Bon, Fahri Azzat, Janet Chai, K Shanmuga, Mahaletchumy Balakrishnan, Marcus van Geyzel, Seira Sacha Abu Bakar, and Sharmila Sekaran.