Malaysian Rights Group Says Police Must Testify at Brutality Inquiry
Malaysia's human rights commission said Wednesday it would use its legal powers to force certain policemen to testify at an inquiry into alleged brutality against protesters.
Police and prosecutors are boycotting the inquiry, the first of its kind in Malaysia, which has heard evidence from demonstrators who say they were punched, kicked and sprayed at close range with tear gas.
Anuar Zainal Abidin, who heads a three-member inquiry panel formed by the commission, said it would have to call the officers named by witnesses.
"We have to. It is only fair. After all allegations have been made against them. They must have their side of the story to tell," he told reporters.
"If you refuse to attend the inquiry, it is an offence," said Anuar, a former chief justice, adding the rights commission was legally empowered to summon witnesses.
Anuar criticized police and prosecutors for failing so far to attend the hearing into the November 5 protest by supporters of jailed ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim.
"I do not know why they turned it (the invitation) down," he told reporters. "Unless of course my suspicion is they do not want to recognize this hearing."
Attorney General Mohtar Abdullah and police representatives snubbed the invitation to attend when the hearing began November 29.
Prosecutors had said evidence at the rights inquiry could prejudice police investigations or other legal proceedings. The rights commission denies this.
Some 125 people were arrested at the protest and have been released on bail.
Riot police used tear gas, batons and water cannons on demonstrators. Twenty-six of those arrested reported injuries ranging from bloody noses to cracked ribs.
On Monday one protester said police sprayed tear gas at him and damaged his eyesight.
The officially-appointed Malaysian Human Rights Commission undertook the inquiry on its own initiative.
During the hearing Wednesday, a 43-year-old mother and her 17-year-old daughter gave details of their arrest and five-day detention.
Hamidah Mat Som said she rushed to the side of her student daughter who was being detained by a policeman, only to be arrested herself. She said they were merely bystanders.
The daughter, Umi Jumaina Mohamed Jan, said police ordered a gathering of 1,000 people to disperse.
"I ran but was caught and beaten with a baton. My headscarf was pulled and I was elbowed to the ground. I was told to get up and while walking to the Black Maria (police van), I was beaten on the leg," she said.
"I was kept in the Black Maria along with my mother and about 40 other people for three hours."
The inquiry will resume January 2.
Anwar was sacked by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on September 2, 1998 and arrested 18 days later following mass anti-government rallies.
He is serving a jail term totaling 15 years after being convicted of abuse of power and sodomy -- KUALA LUMPUR (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)