THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF MALAYSIA (SUHAKAM)
BERSIH 2.0, 9th july 2011
Summary of Eyewitness Reports on the “Attack”
on Tung Shin Hospital & Chinese Maternity Hospital by Enforcement Officers
An open call to the public was made via the Internet for members of the public who were at Tung Shin Hospital and Chinese Maternity Hospital on the 9thof July 2011, between 2.00 p,m. to 4.00 p.m. to give their statements on the Bersih 2.0 Rally. Eighteen eyewitnesses gave their statements, via email or through direct interviews (in person and over the phone). Below is a summary of the statements.
1. Evidence: 18 Eyewitness Statements
- 15 Eyewitnesses present at Tung Shin Hospital during the Bersih 2.0 rally
- 9 Eyewitnesses also present at Chinese Maternity Hospital during the Bersih 2.0 rally
2. Evidence: Photographic evidence of tear gas & water cannons fired into hospital compounds during the Bersih 2.0 Rally
- Photographs obtained from members of the public
- Videos obtained from members of the public
Summary of the Evidence:
“There was no provocation of the police forces by the crowd (no heckling, no chanting of offensive slogans, and no physical provocation) despite the fact that we had been corralled on either end of the road by police and were NOT allowed to disperse or to move on with the march.”
Consistent throughout the statements from the eyewitnesses near and in Tung Shin Hospital and Chinese Maternity Hospital was the expression of peacefulness and civility displayed by the participants at the Bersih 2.0 rally. This is contrary to statements published in the press of supposed unruly and provocative behavior displayed by the Bersih 2.0 participants. Additionally, none of the eyewitnesses stated that there was any destruction of property during the rally, with one stating that “no one (even) litter(ed)”.
The eyewitnesses who were asked for their reasons to participate were also clear that it was within their constitutionally guaranteed rights to assemble peacefully and to freely express their opinions, in this case to call for fair and clean elections. There were also clear statements of ‘unity’ witnessed among the participants of the rally, with one person describing it as a ‘carnival of solidarity’, as people sang the national anthem together, and chanted slogans such as “Hidup Rakyat” (“long live the people”).
"As we were somewhat close to the front, we sat down almost immediately. Suddenly, without warning (and without provocation from anyone), multiple shots of tear gas were fired at us. It was extremely strong. People started running for cover. As the hospital compound was the nearest and safest place for us to seek shelter in, we ran to it”
Out of the 18 statements, 15 individuals were in the compound of Tung Shin Hospital between 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m. on the 9th of July 2011, while 9 participants were also in the compound of Chinese Maternity Hospital. One participant was on the road between both these hospitals, and gave testimony from her vantage point.
Several witnesses stated that before they were in the hospital compounds, they were on Jalan Pudu with thousands of other participants. The riot police and FRU trucks had ‘sealed’ off the area from both ends (on one end near Terminal Bas Puduraya, and on the other end near the Swiss Garden Hotel). As such, the participants were ‘trapped’ in a situation without anywhere to disperse to. When the FRU trucks and riot police moved closer to the crowds, some of the witnesses stated that they saw YB Sivarasa Rasiah move to the front of the crowd where he appeared to be negotiating with the enforcement officers. Some of the participants sat down at that point.
The firing of tear gas at the participants then happened “suddenly” and without warning. There was no mention, however, of provocation of the police by the participants, or any behavior that would reasonably justify an attack.
Running for shelter, the witnesses ended up in the compounds of either Tung Shin Hospital or Chinese Maternity Hospital, which both happened to be the nearest and safest places to seek refuge. It would not have been possible for participants to run further down the road on either direction as the area was cordoned off by FRU trucks and riot police.
The witnesses stated that they were in the compound of the hospitals to avoid tear gas and water cannons, recuperate from the effects of being hit previously with tear gas, and to wait until it was safe for them to either disperse peacefully or continue on with the march.
One witness stated that participants from the rally were initially not allowed to enter into the main building of Tung Shin hospital. A nurse, however, later opened the door to allow participants to enter. There were no statements of disturbances caused by the participants within the building, with one witness stating that the participants remained quiet in the waiting area of the hospital.
As the participants waited in the compound of Tung Shin Hospital, the police and FRU trucks moved into a line in front of the main entrance and exit to the hospital. This effectively prevented any participants from leaving the hospital, even if they wanted to.
“We thought we were safe. We were resting in an area. Then we got teargase(d). I am 52. I had a major infection and asthma attack. A few days later, I actually went back to Tung Shin Hospital for medical aid”.
While the participants were in the compound of Tung Shin Hospital, the police began to fire tear gas and water cannons into the hospital compound. One witness stated that she was standing near the Emergency entrance where the ambulances are parked when a tear gas canister dropped one foot away from her. Another witness stated that he saw smoke from tear gas canisters in the area of the open-air carpark of Tung Shin Hospital. Out of the 18 statements obtained, 16 witnesses explicitly stated seeing tear gas fired into hospital compounds, while 4 stated seeing water cannons fired into hospital compounds.
When the police and FRU trucks ‘retreated’ from the main entrance of the hospitals, the witnesses who were within Tung Shin Hospital began to leave the hospital and move back to the main road. The riot police, however, once more began to move towards the crowd, and more tear gas was fired at the participants. Some of the witnesses then ran into Chinese Maternity Hospital to seek refuge from the riot police.
“I witnessed about 10 participants being arrested at the Chinese Maternity Hospital. The police ran after the participants by grabbing their shirts and pants. Some were pushed down, beaten and handcuffed. When some of the participants started resisting the arrest, they were beaten up with baton. At Chinese Maternity Hospital, the police attack the participants as they were saying “Doa”.
One witness stated that there were approximately 100 participants who sought refuge in the compound of Chinese Maternity Hospital. The statements by some of the witnesses described how the police (approximately 20 personnel) charged into the hospital grounds with truncheons and plastic cable ties.
The statements reflect the police action of using excessive and wholly unjustified force to arrest some of the participants within the compound. There were descriptions by the witnesses of police beating other participants on the head, chest, back and torso. Some participants also witnessed persons being shoved, dragged and kicked by the police.
None of the 18 witnesses, however, were among those who had physical force inflicted directly on them by the police, nor were they arrested in the hospital compounds.
“I just felt really angry towards this unnecessary use of force and the lack of disrespect even at hospital grounds. Everyone who was there was really upset because we all thought hospital grounds to be neutral and safe. But to see for ourselves the extent of police abuse of power really angered us. We had the realization that if hospitals were not safe, nowhere is.”
All of the witnesses either in or near Tung Shin and Chinese Maternity hospitals opined that the police action of firing teargas and chemical-laced water cannons onto the participants of the Bersih 2.0 rally was completely unjustified as the crowd was peaceful and orderly.
The excessive and unnecessary force by the police while arresting participants of the rally was also strongly condemned by the witnesses. This was further emphasized as no participants were seen violently resisting arrest, or behaving in any manner that would warrant a heavy-handed approach by the police.
The ‘attack’ on Tung Shin and Chinese Maternity Hospitals with tear gas and water cannons was also unequivocally condemned by the witnesses. Hospitals are seen as ‘places of sanctuary’ that ought to be protected. Furthermore, witnesses expressed ‘disgust’ and ‘outrage’ that the health and well-being of patients within the hospital were endangered by the enforcement officers who shot harmful chemicals into the hospital. While one witness stated that she saw a man become ‘agitated’ within the compound of Tung Shin Hospital, she further stated that a group of participants immediately calmed him down successfully. Other than shouts of anger, frustration and shock by the participants at the firing of teargas and water cannons into the hospitals, all witnesses within Tung Shin and Chinese Maternity Hospitals firmly stated that there were no incidences of violence or untoward behavior by the participants within the compounds of the hospitals.
“Extreme discomfort; a burning sensation in eyes, mouth and skin; shortness of breath; nausea; breathing difficulties. Yes, the other protestors seeking refuge in the hospital compound complained of similar reactions.”
Witnesses who experienced the effects of tear gas and water cannons stated the adverse reactions to their immediate, and in one instance at least, extended, well being. Severe burning and tearing of the eyes, coughing, gagging, choking, nausea, vomiting, burning of the mouth and throat and itchiness of the skin were the effects of tear gas and water cannons described by the witnesses. One witness stated that she experienced a lung infection and an asthma attack which she had to seek treatment for. Another witness stated that the skin from her face had peeled off the morning after the rally, which she attributed to effects of the tear gas. Some witnesses expressed gratitude for the sharing of salt (which assisted in reducing the effects of teargas), kindness and support received by fellow participants.
“I believe my constitutional rights were violated. In particular, the right to express freely was violated. I believe I have a right to ask for a fair election”
The witnesses believed that their constitutionally guaranteed liberties, in particular their rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression were violated by the enforcement officers at the Bersih 2.0 rally. Furthermore, their right to be free from harm, a fundamental right as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was also denied by the enforcement officers. By condoning and even defending these acts, the State is therefore also seen to be responsible for this violation of rights.
The testimonies of the 18 witnesses and the photographic evidence obtained demonstrate clearly that Tung Shin Hospital and Chinese Maternity Hospital were attacked by the enforcement officers with tear gas and chemical-laced water cannons, and that the police exercised brutal and excessive force against participants seeking refuge within the hospital compound. This violation of the principle of ‘hospitals as places of sanctuary’ and the police brutality witnessed must be taken by Human Rights Commission with utmost urgency.
As one witness said, ‘democratic voices must be heard, but (this) isn’t the case in Malaysia’. The State must be held accountable for the repression of the democratic rights of its citizens. The enforcement officers that abused their power and attacked the participants of the Bersih 2.0 rally must also be held accountable for their actions.
ENDS - Report by Tenaganita