The Bersih coalition has expressed dismay over the newly-minted Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) chairperson Razali Ismail’s remarks about the electoral reform movement.
The coalition said that instead of ridiculing the protesters and urging Bersih not to take to the streets, the protesters should have been commended, and Suhakam should uphold their constitutional right to assemble peacefully without arms.
“We are dismayed that Razali chose not to defend the fundamental right of Malaysians to participate in a peaceful assembly, as enshrined under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, but instead made disparaging and inaccurate remarks about the hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who turned up for the Bersih rallies,” Bersih said in a statement today.
“We wish to remind Razali that Suhakam is mandated to protect and promote human rights in Malaysia, including the right to hold peaceful assemblies without arms.
“With the passing of a slew of draconian legislation and state prosecutions against politicians, activists and members of the public in recent years, we expect the chair of Suhakam to be at the forefront of defending human rights, so that Malaysia can proudly take its place among the fraternity of developed and democratic nations of the world,” it added.
Bersih was responding to a report published on Sunday in The Star, which quoted Razali urging Bersih to take on more ‘sophisticated’ methods than street protests to further its cause.
“No one can prevent them from asking for accountability. But if you want to make a point, why do you go to the streets? You damage a lot of property and all that. We are not that desperate in Malaysia like in Tunisia or Tahrir Square (Egypt during the Arab Spring uprising),” Razali was quoted as saying.
On the matter of holding protests at landmarks such as Dataran Merdeka instead of a stadium, Razali said Bersih should promise to return the venue in a pristine condition.
His comments came as Bersih considers the option of holding a fifth Bersih rally.
However, Bersih rebutted Razali’s claims with Suhakam’s own findings during the Bersih 2.0 rally in 2011 and Bersih 3.0 rally in 2012.
It said that Suhakam - which had monitoring teams on the ground to observe the rallies and held public hearings on allegations of violence at the rallies - had concluded that the rallies had turned violent only after the police used excessive force to disperse peaceful protesters.
“The resulting chaos and property damage cannot be attributed to the organiser or the protesters,” it said.
The group also took exception to Razali for implying that that the protesters had dirtied their surroundings.
It pointed out that the first time Bersih was allowed to hold its protest without incident last year, it had made arrangements for garbage to be collected, sorted, and disposed.
“We left Dataran Merdeka and its surrounding cleaner than before we started,” Bersih said.
Proham vouches for Bersih
Separately, the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) also vouched for Bersih’s conduct at its rallies.
It said that the right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right, and authorities must facilitate this instead of viewing it as a security threat.
“The Suhakam inquiry report on Bersih has indicated that they have exercised this right through peaceful means. There are other Suhakam reports which has recommendations on how this can be done,” said Proham secretary-general Denison Jayasooria in a statement today.
Proham is a human rights group comprised of former commissioners of Suhakam and the police commission, and had sent its own monitoring teams to Bersih rallies as well.
Denison was a Suhakam commissioner from 2006 to 2010.
He said the mooted Bersih 5 rally is a result of loss of confidence over the inaction on unresolved issues pertaining to 1MDB.
To restrict such citizens’ actions would be undemocratic, and a violation of UN Declaration of Human Rights, the rights enshrined in the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and the Federal Constitution, he added.
“Authorities must not view peaceful citizens’ action as a security threat. Police should facilitate this citizens’ action,” he said.