KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 8 ― Police used “reasonable force” by firing teargas and water cannons to disperse large crowds at the Bersih 3.0 rally in 2012, the High Court here was told today.
Senior federal counsel Normastura Ayub, who is representing the government in its civil suit against the rally's organisers, said police action had to take into account the size of the crowd.
“The police's action in firing tear gas and water cannon at the material time is reasonable force to disperse Bersih 3.0 rally, bearing in mind there was a large crowd ― there was 200,000 to 300,000 participants participating there,” she told the court this afternoon during the last stage of hearing for the government's suit against polls reform group Bersih 2.0.
She said the police only started firing the tear gas on the rally-goers when the barricades around Dataran Merdeka were breached and chaos ensued.
She added that the assertion made by one of the organisers, Bersih 2.0's Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan that she had announced the end of the rally before crowds had breached the cordoned-off area, was immaterial.
“Of course there was an issue by defendant that the barricade was breached after she made an order to disperse. That's beside the point. The police only shot the tear gas and water cannon after the barricade was breached. That's the most important fact to determine police action,” the lawyer said.
“We submit that the actions of the participants or people who damaged (the property) were caused by, contributed or encouraged by the defendants themselves,” she said.
Normastura also cited provisions in the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 which allowed the police to use “all reasonable force” to carry out their duties.
Alvin Julian, representing Ambiga and three others, cited the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam)'s extensive report on the 2012 rally ― including alleged incidents of police violence on the crowds at the rally.
Alvin said the inquiry panel had said the police should have immediately nabbed those who had broken through the barricades, but they noted that the police failed to do so.
“Instead, for reasons best known to the police, the police used teargas and water cannons without arresting the individuals who dismantled the barricades,” he said.
He also noted that 17 out of Suhakam's 25 recommendations in the report were addressed directly to the police or government, and said the panel called on the authorities to “make a distinction between a peaceful assembly and a riot”.
Another lawyer for the defendants, Lim Tuck San noted that the panel found the police had used “disproportionate force” to disperse the crowd ― some had previously claimed that tear gas was fired in narrow alleys or even when they were already leaving.
High Court judge Datuk John Louis O' Hara fixed January 30 to give his decision.
On May 23, 2012, the government sued the electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 under Section 6 (2) (g) of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012, claiming compensation for alleged damages to property — 15 police vehicles — during the rally.
The government is now seeking special damages of RM110,543.27 from the then Bersih 2.0’s co-chairs Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and A. Samad Said and 14 other committee members.
A total of 52 witnesses were called in the case, with 33 testifying for the government and 19 testifying for Bersih 2.0.