A photographer for a mainstream English newspaper said that he feared for his safety when a group of police surrounded him and forced him to delete pictures of officers beating Bersih protesters stored on his memory card.
“When a few of them surrounded me, bad things might happen. I was scared...
“They asked for my camera, I did not give it to them. They asked for my memory card, I did not give it to them.
“I saw then beat up protesters, I was scared they might harm me,” said The Star photographer P Puspanathan while testifying to the Suhakam inquiry on alleged human rights abuses at the Bersih 3.0 pro-electoral reform rally today.
He related how when on duty in the Masjid Jamek area during the July 28 rally, he saw some officers beating up protesters.
He proceeded to take pictures of the beating, only to have a uniformed officer accost him and telling him not to photograph the incident.
Then a group of ununiformed “SBs” (Special Branch) surrounded him and forced him to delete his pictures.
“Maybe they didn’t want me taking pictures of them beating up protesters,” related Puspanathan.
Asked how he knew they were police officers and not just members of the public, he said that the persons who surrounded him came with a uniformed police officer and had an SB-air about them.
The uniformed officer also just stood without comment as the ‘SBs’ forced him to delete his photos, convincing him that these were also police officers.
He explained that having seen Special Branch officers working during his 20-year career, he observed tell-tale signs that marked plainclothes cops like their hair and mannerism.
But Puspanathan admitted that he did not ask for their identification.
The photographer, however, also described small groups of protesters who continually taunted police, some even throwing fist sized rocks and safety cones at the officers on duty.
However, he could not identify the people who threw the rocks and cones as protesters, just that they were standing with protesters and the objects came flying from the general direction of the crowd.
‘Malaysians are cool people’
But despite such provocations he does not believe that Malaysians, whom he described as “cool” people, would breach the barriers set up by police without provocation as they are quite an obedient bunch.
He added that being surrounded by the cops and with the implied threat hanging over his head, this was the first time in his career he felt scared of the police while on duty during demonstrations, as previously he felt safe in their presence.
On the whole, and as a photographer, Puspanathan felt “frustrated” that despite his day-long adventure covering Bersih 3.0, he had nothing to show for it.
He said that while his duty as a cameraperson was to protect his camera, he also had to protect himself and had to obey police instructions to delete his photos.
Puspanathan was on duty on April 28 when over 100,000 people flooded the streets of Kuala Lumpur in a mega rally to demand clean and fair elections.
The rally, which was relatively peaceful, turned rowdy when small groups of protesters provoked police while a small number rushed the police cordon around Dataran Merdeka.
However, some have called the blanket police response which fired water-cannons and tear gas canisters all over Kuala Lumpur at protesters who were already dispersing on their own accord as excessive.
This was also the first time that police targeted media personnel covering the incident.
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