Reporters Without Borders today condemned brutality by riot police who broke up a peaceful demonstration in Kuala Lumpur on 8 November. Some 22 people were arrested during the day, including two journalists and a blogger.
Demonstrators were singing the national anthem at the rally, held by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) and supporters of famed blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin (RKP), when anti-riot police charged the crowd without warning.
They arrested around 20 people and took them to a police station in Petaling Jaya, in the suburbs of the capital. Among those arrested were opposition Members of Parliament and one of the lawyers for the blogger RKP, who was released on 6 November after 54 days in custody without trial.
Syukri Mahamad, a cameraman for news website Malaysiakini, and a blogger known under his pseudonym "Fisherman’s wharf", were also arrested. Those arrested were well treated and released without charge early the next morning. The police confiscated Syukri Mahamad’s camera and refused to return it on the grounds that it was needed for
their investigation into the "illegal demonstrations."
“We call on the government to open an investigation into the arbitrary and violent arrests of peaceful demonstrators, aggravated by the fact that the police chief gave the media a false version of the events,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “Journalists and bloggers should be able to cover demonstrations without suffering police threats and violence”, it added.
On the same day, Rusnizam Mahat, journalist on the weekly Suara Keadilan, was arrested after a press conference held by the Selangor police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, within the Petaling Jaya station at which he asked why arrests were made during peaceful demonstrations and the singing of the national anthem.
Even though videos show the opposite (video showing that police charged during the singing of the Malaysian anthem “Negaraku"), Khalid Abu Bakar denied that he had failed to warn demonstrators before giving the order for them to be violently dispersed.
At the end of the press conference, an officer and the police chief told Rusnizam Mahat to go to the interview room and asked him to make a statement. “Another officer asked me why I had gone to the demonstration and to the police station. After half an hour, I had to sign a statement and they released me”, he told Reporters Without Borders.
Rusnizam Mahat said he had personally witnessed police brutality. “I saw a police officer harassing one of my journalist colleagues while he was taking embarrassing photos exposing police violence,” he said.