Press Release: Facilitate and Deal Peacefully with Peaceful Assemblies
Facilitate and Deal Peacefully with Peaceful Assemblies
The Malaysian Bar calls on the authorities, including the police, to continue to facilitate peaceful public assemblies, such as the one that civil society groups reportedly plan to hold at Dataran Merdeka on 31 December 2013 to protest price hikes in the country.
It is the constitutional right of any Malaysian to assemble peacefully in public, whether in celebration or in protest. This would be a legitimate expression by Malaysians of their concerns or objections, and an exercise of their constitutional right. The existence of other avenues of raising their objections, such as organising petitions, writing letters of complaint or speaking to elected representatives, would not exclude or displace the right to peaceful and orderly public assembly. These rights are cumulative and indivisible: they have equal status, and none of them operates to negate or exclude the exercise of the other.
The Malaysian Bar urges the police to respect, promote and protect the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of assembly and expression during such gatherings, and not try to stymie or prevent the assemblies. The provisions of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 must be read and applied purposively to achieve this, and not applied narrowly, slavishly or technically to frustrate its purpose, as well as the purpose of Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
The police have in effect had more than 10 days' notice of the planned event. The fact that the police have been speaking about the gathering is itself evidence of their knowledge. The police must not be pedantic in looking at the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012. The notice period of 10 days in the Act is not intended to prevent an assembly, but to allow time for the police to make arrangements to facilitate an orderly and safe assembly. The police should therefore have been spending the time engaging with the organisers on this basis, instead of thumping their chests and rattling their sabres.
On various occasions in the past, the police have demonstrated that they can work with organisers of public assemblies to allow participants to walk or assemble, and openly and outwardly express their viewpoints, in safety. We commend these positive and salutary examples. It is thus evident that, with proper liaising and cooperation, it is possible for the police and the organisers to work together to ensure that these events proceed smoothly and peacefully.
The Malaysian Bar reiterates that we support and defend the principle of any individual or group's fundamental freedom to speak, assemble or walk in order to publicly and openly promote and publicise a cause, if that freedom is exercised responsibly and peacefully. We call on the police and Government to always protect and promote the freedoms of assembly and expression in a fair and equitable manner. We also remind organisers of public assemblies of their responsibility to take all reasonable action to ensure a peaceful assembly.
30 December 2013