Police officers stand guard during Saturday's protest. (Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad)
Police officers stand guard during Saturday's protest. (Reuters/Bazuki Muhammad)

Journalists assaulted, detained during rally in Malaysia

Bangkok, April 30, 2012–Security forces attacked several journalists Saturday while cracking down on a rally in Kuala Lumpur, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists rejects the government’s claims that police acted with restraint and calls for an independent investigation into the attacks.

Thousands of protesters calling for election reform gathered at the demonstration, which was organized by the nonpartisan Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih, according to news reports. Human rights groups estimated that about 500 people were arrested and dozens injured after police forces began to crack down on the rally.

“Journalists were clearly singled out and targeted by Malaysian security forces during this weekend’s crackdown,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Those responsible for the violence should be held accountable for their actions.”

Police breaking up the demonstration arrested and attacked several journalists with tear gas and water cannons and confiscated their materials, according to news reports and the Center for Independent Journalism (CIJ), a Kuala Lumpur-based press freedom group. Both local and international journalists were targeted during the confrontation, news reports said.

After the demonstration, Hisamuddeen Hussain, the minister of home affairs, said in a statement that police would investigate the alleged anti-press violence, according to state news agency Bernama. The minister also said that police had acted with professionalism and restraint and that a group of “protesters tried to provoke a violent confrontation with the police,” according to news reports.

But news accounts of the attacks contradict the government’s claims.

  • Police attacked Radzi Razak, a reporter with the local English-language daily The Sun, and broke his rib, according to news reports and CIJ.
  • Kenny Lew, a Singapore-based Channel New Asia cameraman, said he was punched by police officials who also confiscated his tripod, CIJ reported.
  • Harry Fawcett, a correspondent with Al-Jazeera, reported that police assaulted his camera crew and damaged its equipment while they were filming protesters being arrested, according to news reports and CIJ.
  • Koh Jun Lin, a photojournalist with the online news portal Malaysiakini, was briefly detained after photographing police violence against demonstrators, CIJ reported. Police authorities confiscated his camera’s memory card, the reports said.
  • Wong Onn Kin, a photographer for the Chinese newspaper Guang Ming Daily, was beaten by security forces while photographing the demonstration, the Association of Editors of Chinese Medium Malaysia, a local press freedom group, reported. The association said police officials grabbed Wong and punched him in the head, and then confiscated his camera and detained him temporarily. Another photographer, Tan Chee Hui, from the Chinese paper Sin Chew Daily, was also beaten, the association reported.

Several photographers and videographers also said that authorities either damaged or confiscated their equipment while they filmed attacks and arrests on unarmed protesters, according to news reports and CIJ.