Policing the police at Bersih 3.0

We will see even more protesters, from all ethnic groups, at Bersih 3.0 on April 28 than we did at the groundbreaking Bersih 2.0 rally last July 9. This is what many people are sure of.

The carefully packaged and perfumed plan of the BN leaders to ‘manage' demonstrations, using the Peaceful Assembly Act, many are saying, has leaked a stinking effluent all over their feet.
Thanks to this new law, which despite being another example of the BN's hare-brained policies, the people now have a clearer picture that demonstrations are, in fact, legal and constitutional.

A person who was arrested after a peaceful protest against the Internal Security Act was all praise for the selfless support given him and his fellow detainees, for free, by the Legal Aid Bureau of the Bar Council.

Just like in the Bersih 2.0 rally, the anti-ISA demonstrators had been multi-ethnic and peaceful.
This person, who does not want to be named and was eventually released without being charged in court, said: "The police are only human.

"Some, though, are active Umno supporters. The others are neutral... and a few are supportive of a change of government because they're fed up with the corruption throughout the ranks."

He recounted the amusing sight of a senior police officer trying to browbeat the protesters, yelling at them to disperse 'on the count of three'.

"The office then began screaming that the protesters were stupid and uneducated because they would not obey his orders to leave. His tirade was met with smiles of incredulity, since the protesters were more civil, and certainly far better educated, than that officer."

Many detainees announced their names, loudly, to bystanders as they were taken away, saying, "I am being arrested". This ensured that every single detainee would be accounted for, and would be given legal representation.

Immediately after the arrests, a ‘rapid response' team from the Bar Council and Lawyers for Liberty spoke to the detainees through the "chicken wires" of the police vans.

The lawyers noted the names of the detainees and their MyKad numbers, so that the Bar Council would know exactly how many people had been detained and who they were.

At one police station, the protesters were taken to, they were put in a holding area and their MyKad details were taken down.

A few protesters had been handcuffed and the handcuffs were removed after they got down the police vans. There was a long wait while the police conferred with their superiors over their next course of action.

They chatted calmly with one another and sent off text messages on their mobile phones. The small knot of lawyers at the station gate were initially refused entry into the station, but they kicked up such a fuss that they were allowed in - after three hours.

'Be polite with the police'

The lawyers advised the detainees to give their names and MyKad numbers politely to the police. They were also told that they had the right to decline to answer other questions asked and say, "I will answer any other question in the court, if necessary."

Several policemen conducting the interviews tried to intimidate the lawyers present, by insisting that the lawyers sign a "112 statement as witnesses". One young lawyer was visibly shaken, but the older hands simply refused, and objected to this harassment.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has adopted a similar, graceless tactic, by trying to question lawyers representing people under investigation - a tactic rubbished by Lawyers for Liberty.

The police officers also took photographs and fingerprints of the detainees. In total, the detainees spent seven hours at the police station.

They were then made to report to the police station every week for more than a month, yet another form of harassment, even if a half-hearted effort at collective punishment. One young detainee was forced to travel to Kuala Lumpur each week, from Cameron Highlands.

The Bar Council's excellent red book, ‘Police and Your Basic Rights', is a short but enlightening read.
Perhaps Malaysian police officers should be made to memorise it before they graduate from their academy. Crucial pieces of advice include: Take note of the name and rank and RF number of the police officer conducting the arrest or interview; stay calm; be polite; never resist arrest; and, do not be afraid to remain silent.

Perhaps all Malaysians ought to watch an illuminating episode, exposed by the Guardian newspaper in Britain.

In it, a 21-year-old black man, arrested after the London street riots last year, created a stir with his recording of a torrent of racist abuse by a policeman on his mobile telephone and released it through the press.

In the recording, he repeated the racist officer's badge number several times. His quick thinking has now become another spur to reforming the police force of Britain.

Let's be honest, the police everywhere in the world aren't all that different. We all have a role to play in policing the police.