Police assault photojournalist

[The following is a statement from the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), SEAPA’s associate member based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia:[

Alleged police assault and arrest of photographer troubling

The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned over the alleged assault of “Bernama” photographer Hairul Nizam Baharin while he was carrying out his duties on 9 January 2011. Reports indicate that Hairul Nizam was questioned by auxiliary police after he had taken photos near the Integrated Transportation Terminal in Bandar Tasik Selatan, Kuala Lumpur, at 11.30 a.m. on that day. He was allegedly punched, assaulted, handcuffed and brought to the police station after refusing their request to stop his motorcycle and provide his identification card.

CIJ understands that the police have a discretion to stop and question individuals whom they reasonably believe to have committed a crime. According to the reports however, Hairul Nizam was carrying out his press photographer duty in taking photographs and did not give the police any reasonable reason to suspect that a crime had been committed. He should therefore have been left to go on his way unmolested, without unnecessary questioning. CIJ is also concerned whether the auxiliary police were acting beyond the boundary of their duties by arbitrarily stopping and questioning individuals on motorcycles.

CIJ also queries the quality of the auxiliary police’s training as they appear to have resorted to violence and intimidation when Hairul Nizam refused to obey their request to stop. Police procedure surely does not allow them to arbitrarily handcuff individuals and haul them off to the police station without due inquiry and without any reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed. CIJ also condemns the alleged violence against Hairul Nizam. Journalists, press photographers and for that matter, other individuals, should not be subject to such harassment and intimidation from the authorities when going about their duties.

CIJ is heartened to note that the auxiliary police in question are being investigated for criminal intimidation under the Penal Code. We call on the police to conduct a through and swift investigation and to charge the individuals in question if it is found that the assault and threatening behaviour did indeed take place.

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The Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia (CIJ) is a non-profit organisation that aspires for a society that is democratic, just and free where all people will enjoy free media and the freedom to express, seek, and impart information.