Malaysia to probe protest police brutality claims
AFPJuly 11, 2011, 8:58 pm
KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia will investigate claims of police brutality following the death of a demonstrator in a mass street protest for electoral reform, a senior minister said Monday.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon and arrested more than 1,600 people to end a rally to demand electoral changes on Saturday, drawing intense criticism from human rights groups.
A 59-year-old taxi driver died during the protest -- the biggest in four years -- though police say he was a bystander who died of a heart attack.
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities would review their video footage of the protest to investigate the man's death as well as allegations that police fired tear gas into a hospital compound.
"We will answer (the allegations) without fear or favour," Hishammuddin said.
He said police action had prevented worse chaos during the rally, which saw at least 10,000 people take to the streets but was deemed illegal as it had not been given official permission.
"My concern is the security of the nation and the safety of the people," he said.
"The police have done very well because the situation could have been much, much worse... We are very clear that the police in every sense of the word were provoked."
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has also defended the police, saying the opposition-backed rally was a ploy to tarnish the country's image.
But rally organiser Bersih 2.0, a coalition of non-governmental groups demanding electoral reform, slammed the government on Monday over the crackdown.
Bersih said police had failed to provide "proper and timely medical aid" to Baharuddin Ahmad, who was fleeing from tear gas when he collapsed, according to his family. He was dead by the time he arrived at hospital.
Bersih also claimed police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd, hurting people, and beat others.
"These unwarranted attacks against a peaceful gathering of unarmed citizens are nothing short of shocking," it said in a statement.
"It is clear from the massive turnout on the 9th of July that a huge number of Malaysians agree that things are not right with our nation's electoral system," it said.
Bersih is calling for a number of reforms including the introduction of indelible ink to prevent people casting multiple votes and equal access for all political parties to mainstream media.
Analysts have said that the crackdown against the rally could backfire on Najib's administration, which must call elections by 2013 but is widely expected to seek a new mandate by next year.
The opposition scored major gains in the last general elections in 2008, but believes fraud and other voting irregularities cost it better results.
The Barisan Nasional coalition has ruled the country since independence from Britain in 1957.