The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is concerned that police in Malaysia roughed up and arrested a blogger at a peaceful assembly, and briefly detained an online journalist covering the event on 21 January 2007.
Blogger Tan Han Kuo had attempted to document the peaceful assembly held to protest a recent increase in highway toll charges, said a 26 January release from the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a SEAPA partner in Malaysia.
However, Tan said, almost as soon as he arrived at the site of the demonstration just outside the Kuala Lumpur capital city, police used force to stop him from joining the protesters. He was chased and beaten on his head before being arrested. Prior to his arrest, Tan had told the police that he was at the event to take pictures and document the protest.
Tan runs four blogs and is a resident of a nearby township affected by the closure of the only open access road that allowed motorists to bypass the toll. He has been actively blogging about the protests against the road closure and is a member of the community’s Open Access Road Committee, CIJ stated in .
Tan was released on police bail together with three protesters a few hours after their arrest. They have been told to report to the Kajang magistrate’s court on 5 February.
Police also detained malaysiakini.com journalist Andrew Ong and asked to inspect pictures he had taken of the assembly. They returned his camera and released him after making copies of the pictures.
When contacted, Kajang Police Station ACP Rosli Mohd Nizam denied that police acted on people who were not part of the crowd, claiming that they exerted force only against those who had refused to comply with the warning to disperse.
CIJ, one of the few local organisations advocating communication rights, is concerned about what it has deemed to be police targetting of bloggers and journalists – in effect, limiting the public’s right to know about events.
“We call on the police to immediately desist from using force against peaceful assembly and, in particular, to safeguard citizen journalists and others documenting these protests,” said CIJ Executive Director Sonia Randhawa.
CIJ also wants a full and open police inquiry into police action at the protest “to ensure that those engaged in acts of violence against peaceful protesters and journalists cannot act with impunity”.
Although Article 10 of Malaysia’s Federal Constitution guarantees the people’s right to peaceful assembly, the Police Act (1962) – which requires a permit for gatherings of three or more people – has often been used to suppress this right, especially when exercised by opposition and civic groups. The authorities have often dealt protesters a rough hand even though such public displays of sentiment are rare because of the highly restrictive and frequently applied Police Act.