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Journalists targeted in rally for electoral reform

Security forces attacked both local and foreign journalists last week with tear gas and water cannons while cracking down on a rally for electoral reform in Kuala Lumpur, reports Malaysia's Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), as well as international IFEX members.

Tens of thousands of protesters calling for election reform gathered at the 28 April demonstration, organised by the nonpartisan Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih. Human Rights Watch estimated that about 500 people were arrested and dozens injured after police forces began to crack down on the rally.

CIJ counts at least 12 instances of journalists being targeted. For instance, Radzi Razak, a journalist with the daily "The Sun", was admitted to hospital due to injuries suffered during an attack by at least seven police.

Wong Onn Kin, a photographer for the Chinese newspaper Guang Ming Daily, was beaten by security forces while taking pictures of the rally. He was briefly arrested and had his camera confiscated. Koh Jun Lin, a photojournalist with online news site Malaysiakini, was also temporarily detained after taking photographs.

Foreign journalists were not spared. Harry Fawcett, a correspondent with Al-Jazeera, reported that police assaulted his camera crew and damaged its equipment while they were documenting arrests and ill-treatment of protesters.

"Our organisations view these incidents as a concerted attack on media freedom since they appear to be aimed at preventing professional journalistic documentation of alleged police violence against some of the Bersih protesters," CIJ said in a joint statement with other local media groups.

Minister of Home Affairs Hisamuddeen Hussain said in a statement that police would investigate the alleged anti-press violence. But he also said that police had acted with professionalism and restraint and that a group of "protesters tried to provoke a violent confrontation with the police."

According to CIJ, in recent months, those trying to document peaceful gatherings with photographs and videos have been targeted by police. Only last week, the Occupy Dataran encampment was raided - "ostensibly in a bid to thwart any attempt to document the violence and identify the perpetrators, leading up to the Bersih rally," said CIJ.

"Instead of trying to close the book on the protest, the government should launch an impartial and transparent inquiry into the actions of the police," Human Rights Watch said. "Whether the government likes it or not, there will be future demonstrations and the police will need to do a better job to ensure security and respect people's rights."

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