Proham says Hanif panel pointless as it lacks bite
KUALA LUMPUR, May 10 - Human rights watchdog Proham today said that the independent panel set up to probe violence during the recent Bersih 3.0 rally is the government's 'weakest option' as it lacks legal powers to investigate.
Tun Hanif Omar was named yesterday as the head of a six-man independent panel to investigate allegations of police violence against journalists and other participants of last month’s Bersih 3.0 rally for electoral reforms.
Besides the former Inspector General of Police, the other members of the panel are former Chief Judge of Borneo Tan Sri Steve Shim, Sinar Harian managing director Datuk Hussamuddin Yaacub, legal adviser to Media Chinese International Liew Peng Chuan, Petronas corporate affairs senior general manager Datuk Medan Abdullah and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia psychology Prof Dr Ruszmi Ismail.
"With the government...appointing a panel without independent legal powers to properly investigate abuses, the Minister of Home Affairs' action can be perceived as opting to the weakest option available." Proham said in a statement today signed by its leaders Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, Prof Hamdan Adnan and Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria.
Proham pointed to other options of a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI), the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and the new Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC).
The group said that the independent panel lacks the "investigative powers" of a RCI which would have "powers to compel witnesses to appear before the hearing".
The RCI established under the Commission of Enquiry Act 1950 and its witnesses would also be protected from court cases, according to Proham.
Proham said that both Suhakam and EAIC also have the "legal powers" needed for an independent inquiry, but the EAIC would be "limited..to investigate misconduct of only enforcement agencies".
The body acknowledged that the independent panel members are not "politicians or those currently serving in the administration".
But it says that the panel could have a better balance of "ethnic and gender representation" as well as more "neutral and impartial" members.
Proham also urged the government to "review" the independent panel decision and instead use Suhakam or an RCI to restore public confidence in the Bersih violence probe.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, who announced the names yesterday, said the panel was expected to convene its first meeting to set its terms of reference in the next few days.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had pledged last week that “credible, experienced and respectable” individuals would form the independent panel tasked with investigating allegations of police brutality.
Najib added that he, along with the entire government and members of the public, are keeping a close eye on investigations into the allegations that journalists, both local and foreign, had been roughed up during the rally for free and fair elections.
Six local pressmen and about 12 photographers and journalists from the foreign media were reportedly assaulted during the fracas on April 28, after the police sprayed water cannons and tear gas to disperse Bersih 3.0 protesters.
Both local and foreign media groups have condemned the hard-handed tactics used on the media, whom they pointed out were merely doing their jobs.
Chaos reigned on the streets of Kuala Lumpur for over four hours after 3pm on April 28 when police fired tear gas and water cannons and chased protesters down the streets of the capital to disperse what had initially started out as a peaceful protest calling for free and fair elections.
The Bar Council has said that its observers found that police brutality at the rally was “magnified” as compared to already chaotic scenes during a similar gathering for free and fair elections last July 9.
Police fired tear gas and water cannons after some demonstrators breached the barricade in front of DBKL and rushed into Dataran Merdeka, which the court had barred the public from entering across that particular weekend.
Police fired as far as the DBKL premises, which are across Jalan Parlimen, and the move broke up the crowd who fled helter-skelter but police chased them down at Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Raja Laut.