PROHAM hosted a discussion yesterday on Peaceful Assemblies and Malaysian society with an opportunity to hear the reflections from four panel speakers on the “Build up to Bersih 5 “ and stating their views if the current environment in Malaysia is enabling or disempowering citizens action.
The four speakers were Dr Khoo Ying Hooi (PROHAM), Mr Jerald Joseph (Suhakam), Mr Syahredzan John (Bar Council) and Ms Ivy Josiah (Bersih).
While many thoughts, concerns and aspirations were expressed, there are six key issues and concerns as listed out below:-
First, Malaysians have a right to peaceful assembly as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution Article 10 and the Peaceful Assembly Act (2012). It was recognised that this is a fundamental right as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20) as well.. It is affirmed that all have a right whatever the colour of their T-shirt or objectives might be but the criteria is that it must be peaceful. It was also acknowledged that the various Suhakam inquires and relevant Court judgments pertaining to peaceful assemblies and Bersih, has clearly concluded that such peaceful demonstrations are lawful.
Second, that the Bersih 5 organisers have consistently stated that the proposed assembly is a peaceful one. Bersih has been very public about their five demands namely a call for clean elections, a call for a clean government, the need to strengthen parliamentary democracy, the right to dissent and finally empowering Sabah & Sarawak’s legitimate concerns. We were also briefed of the ethnic code of conduct of Bersih demonstrators and security briefing notes to ensure that this assembly is really peaceful. These are all principles and aspirations which should be supported by every Malaysian as we all desire to see a more matured democracy in Malaysia.
Third, concern was raised about those who are organising counter demonstrations. It is acknowledged that the red shirts too have the right but only to peaceful assembly. We discussed with great concern the events leading to Nov 19, 2016 which have been full of incidents of hate speeches, threats of violence, warning, death threats and even obstructions to peaceful protest. It was acknowledged that organised counter rally to obstruct Bersih is a new development. In this context we make a clear distinction between a peaceful assembly and one that is a counter- movement or group or rally which has the sole objective of disrupting the first. Many other questions remain unanswered especially with regards to the role of non-state actors and the lack of Police action to restrain hate speeches, threats, intimidation and obstructions. Some are raising concerns of potential political involvement in out sourcing these actions by counter- Bersih groups.
The discussion noted that they had difficulties in equating the two movements as the same legitimate rights, as the right is only for a peaceful assembly. Concern was raise that very little action is taken on those promoting threats, hate speech and violence. Other laws pertaining to violence and rioting must be reviewed especially from the Penal code and Criminal Procedure Code by the authorities.
Four, a matter greatly discussion was the role of the Police and enforcement authorities. It was acknowledged that over the past four Bersih rallies, there has been a change in the Police approach towards a more professional handling as seen in Bersih 4. It is in this context that we strongly feel that it is the duty of the Police to protect all citizens. There was some discussion on Section 18 of the PAA (2012). The option before the Police is not so much as to call of the peaceful assembly but to facilitate and regulate it so as to ensure ordinary citizens can exercise the democratic freedoms.
Fifth, concern was raised that in an open public expression there could be the infiltration of ‘agent provocateurs’. This was the case in previous rallies but the problems were contained. However at Bersih 5 there might be a bigger danger and challenge on this matter in exercising the democratic rights of citizens. In this context while Bersih has a role within their line and to be cautious, however it is really the duty of the Police and enforcement to ensure the safety of the peaceful demonstrators, facing a group resorting to violence and intimidation. There is a need for enforcement authorities to work together with the Bersih committee to prevent any acts of violence.
Sixth, we disagreed with the perspective that the Bersih rally is illegal and that there is a prohibition and warning issued to citizens especially civil servants from participating. The position of Suhakam is reiterated here on this matter that peaceful assemblies are a right. Some of the institutions prohibiting their workers could be found contravening Article 10 (1) of the Federal Constitution.
PROHAM calls on the Police and enforcement authorities to be protectors and defenders of human rights namely the rights of ordinary citizens in a parliamentary democracy to express peacefully their concerns through peaceful public assemblies.
PROHAM calls on the political elites and leaders in the current ruling coalition to ensure that as Malaysia emergences as a high income country it will also become a matured democracy. In this context it is imperative for the political leadership to distance themselves from those who promoting a counter movement through advocating hate speeches, violence and intimidation and promote democratic empowerment of citizens.
PROHAM calls on ordinary citizens to rise and defend the basis of our democratic values and traditions as per the Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Written by Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Proham Secretary-General)
Nov 18, 2016