Journalists are fast becoming victims sandwiched between giants as the crackdown on Bersih activists escalate in the run up to the NGO’s planned mammoth rally on Jul 9 in Kuala Lumpur. Very recent is how journalists covering an anti-Bersih protest in Penang were treated aggresively by protestors while on duty.
On Sunday, journalists covering the Bersih-related campaign by PKR members in Alor Setar, were ‘tricked’ into entering an unauthorised detention centre to be questioned as “independent witnesses”. I know because I was one of the stupid fools. The centre – Pusat Latihan PDRM in Anak Bukit – held 14 of the nabbed activists who gathered at Alor Setar’s Cowboy Market along Jalan Telok Wajah from 9.30am to 7.30pm, just as they were about to hold a press conference.
At about 3.30pm, journalists gathered at the detention centre as they were told that there would be a demontration at the gates by PKR members. However, the 30-odd party members led by state chief Wan Salleh Wan Isa were shooed away by the police, who warned them of possible arrests.
About 20 light strike force personnel equipped with head gears, batons and shields stood prepared for action behind the gates. A few minutes later, the gate opened and a plain clothes policeman told reporters covering the event in the morning to “come inside”. The reporters were given the impression that they would be attending a briefing or given a statement by the police on the day’s detention.
However, upon arriving at the office, reporters were told that they were needed as “independent witnesses” to the episode which took place in the morning. They were warned “not to take any photos” as they waited for about two hours before they were called individually into the building.
The reporters later lamented they did not have a choice as they were already somewhat ‘detained’ within the enclosure of the centre, which appeared more like a classroom for the police. Police then took aside individual journalists and recorded their professional background before being questioned.
They were later asked about their knowlegde of the press conference, about what they witnessed at the scene, whether they saw anyone wearing Bersih’ yellow t-shirts or if they knew the event was related to Bersih. “Are you aware that there would be a big rally on July 9 related to Bersih in Kuala Lumpur?” ACP T.Segeran asked the Malaysiakini journalist who were questioned that day.
Later he told the journalist that “We will do this because we need you to be our witness as we want to be ‘professional’ in our work”. This raises the question of whether journalists should be ‘used’ by the police to investigate their cases. Couldn’t the police refer to their articles which would eventually be published in their respective newspapers on the same day (for internet journalists like Malaysiakini) or the very next day (for the print media).
Journalists have no choice in the matter especially when the police invoke Sectin 112 of the Penal Code and hold them in an enclosed location, where they cannot even refer to a legal counsel. What is most disconcerting, lamented the journalists involved, is that they were not told of the questioning session before hand.
They was even concern among some that this would now be a trend by the police to extract information from reporters where there may be a possibility that their sources can be compromised and unprotected.
What if journalists refuse to answer certain questions by the police, would they be subjected to further detention and accused of witholding information or obstructing justice? Lets’ ponder these questions as journalists from across the media spectrum continue to cover interesting days ahead, without fear or favour.