By Shannon Teoh
KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad defended today the use of force by police during the April 28 Bersih rally, saying they were provoked by protestors and had acted in self-defence.
He also said press freedom in Malaysia is better than in “most developing countries” on the evidence of “the vernacular papers” and the “racist and provocative speeches at opposition meetings.”
The former prime minister wrote this in a blog posting where he argued that Malaysia was not “deserving of being overthrown through extra legal means” such as the Bersih rally which he and the Barisan Nasional (BN) government have said was an attempted coup.
“A quiet and peaceful demo in a stadium would not create the impression of police brutality or government oppression. Of course the police must be provoked so that they would use force against the demonstrators.
“If the police used force it is because they were provoked, they were beaten up and had to defend themselves and because their colleagues were beaten up,” he wrote.
Dr Mahathir, who is still influential despite stepping down nine years ago, said demonstrators “apparently from a signal from (Opposition Leader) Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim” breached the barricades around Dataran Merdeka which the court had barred the public from having access to over that particular weekend.
“Then they equally clearly attacked the police pushing and breaking the windshield and overturning the police car. Video showed a demonstrator kicking a policeman who had fallen down.
“Later a policeman related how he was beaten on his back with some kind of truncheon. He vomited because of the beatings,” he added.
If the police used force it is because they were provoked, they were beaten up and had to defend themselves and because their colleagues were beaten up. — Dr M
Dr Mahathir, who was PM for 22 years, also argued that there was no evidence “that the Malaysian Government is oppressive and deserving of being overthrown through extra legal means” as it was possible for Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to win elections and there is freedom of expression.
“Do innocent people get arrested, incarcerated and tortured and disappeared as happens in many authoritarian countries and even in the United States? No, people in Malaysia do not fear arbitrary arrests,” he said.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had pledged early this month that “credible, experienced and respectable” individuals would investigate the events that transpired during Bersih’s third rally for free and fair elections, which descended into chaos after police clashed with protestors.
But the Umno president then said the real purpose of the opposition-backed Bersih rally was to “fight, kick and strip the police” while calling on his party to ensure “uncivilised enemies” were not allowed to “destroy the country.”
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has also claimed some participants in the rally wanted deaths to occur.
The April 28 rally, which saw tens of thousands gather at six different locations before heading to Dataran Merdeka, was peaceful until about 2.30pm when Bersih chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan asked the crowd to disperse.
But her announcement was not heard by most of the crowd who continued to congregate around the historic square which the court had deemed as off-limits to the public.
Just before 3pm, some protestors breached the barricade surrounding the landmark, leading police to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons.
Police then continued to pursue rally-goers down several streets amid chaotic scenes which saw violence from both sides over the next four hours.