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Friday, 9 December 2016

Johor Bahru Public Forum on The State of Human Rights in Malaysia Today

Rama Ramanathan (Proham Secretariat) speaking at the forum

The Johor Bar Committee invited Proham to speak at a public forum titled “The State of Human Rights in Malaysia,” on 8 December. Proham was represented by Rama Ramanathan (Proham Secretariat).

Other panelists were Tommy Thomas (eminent lawyer and author), YB Khalid Samad (Amanah MP for Shah Alam) and YB Rafizi Ramli (PKR MP for Pandan). The moderator was Datuk Yeo Yang Poh (President of the Malaysian Bar, 2005-2007).

In a presentation titled “The State of Demonstrations in Malaysia,” Rama built on the learnings from the Proham/KLSCAH post-Bersih 5 roundtable “Lessons in Citizen’s Mobilization for Institutional Democratic Reform in Malaysia" (19 Nov 2016).

Rama began by showing the difference between the police approach to assemblies in Kuala Lumpur and in London. He did this by reading extracts from Malaysia’s Public Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) and from guidance provided by London’s Metropolitan police to organisers of public assemblies.
Rama showed that the guidance provided by the Malaysian police amounts to “avoid demonstrations” or “if you must demonstrate, use a stadium,” while the guidance provided by the London police amounts to facilitation of assemblies.

Rama posed the question “In London, on the day of the assembly, what are the organizers responsible for?”

He said the London police accept responsibility, including during assemblies, for (1) protecting life and property, (2) preserving order, (3) preventing the commission of offences and (4) any duty or responsibility arising from common or statute law. He said Malaysians expect their police to accept the same responsibility. He then noted the decision of the Malaysian police to cordon themselves off from the Bersih 4 and 5 assemblies, and argued that by doing so the Malaysian police were derelict in their duty.

Rama also posed the question “In London, on the day of the assembly, what are the organizers responsible for?”

He said the London police provide explicit guidance, in a four page, 38 paragraph document which includes the following references to “stewards”:

1.    There should be enough stewards [1:50] to express the organisers’ wishes to all the participants.
2.    Stewards must be briefed so that they know the organisers’ intentions and directions.

3.    Stewards should be fitted, both physically and temperamentally, to carry out the organisers’ wishes and to ensure that the participants comply with them. It is advised that stewards should be over 18 years of age.

4.    Stewards should be easily identifiable so that participants and others know that they represent the organisers.

5.    Stewards should be in communication with the organisers throughout the event.
6.    Stewards must immediately inform police if any matter requires police attention.
7.    Stewards must not carry or have near them any weapon.

Rama added that, in KL, the police and government discourage the public from exercising the freedom of speech, assembly and association enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
Whereas, in London, the police and government facilitate the public exercise of these freedoms, to the extent of including in their guidance “If banners are to be used it is essential that they are designed with a hole to reduce the risk of danger when they are used in high winds.”

Rama urged the audience of about 150 persons to accept “Fact #1: In Malaysia, the police are at best reluctant facilitators of public assemblies.”

By similarly arguing from evidence, Rama urged the audience to accept that there are four other indisputable facts about the state of assemblies in Malaysia.

This is the list he provided:

Fact #1: In Malaysia, the police are at best reluctant facilitators of public assemblies.

Fact #2: On 19 November, the CPO of Kuala Lumpur allowed a counter assembly instead of exercising his right under section 18 of the PAA to order the counter assembly to be held at a different place or time.

Fact #3: The Malaysian police meted out extra-judicial punishment when they detained leaders of Bersih 5 on the eve of the assembly. By doing so the police massively increased the burden on the rally organisers to discharge their responsibilities under the PAA, and potentially threatened the safety of protesters.

Fact #4: The police wrongfully equated the peaceful yellows – with a track record of peaceful assembly vouched for by Suhakam and court inquiries – with the violent reds who had to be restrained by water cannons in KL in September 2015 and who had wreaked havoc in the 50 days of convoys prior to 19 November.

Fact #5: The police facilitated the red shirts, who assembled in the shadow of the Umno building in KL, were led by a well-known Umno leader, wore masks and proclaimed their only goal was to disrupt Bersih 5 protesters.

Tommy Thomas focused on 1MDB, which he said is clearly a case of wrongdoing, defence of wrongdoing and cover up of wrongdoing by the government of the day. He said the right to be ruled by upright persons is denied when the perpetrators of the offences committed by 1MDB remain unprosecuted.

Khalid Samad lamented that the Umno-led ruling coalition stresses the Islamic teachings on obedience to authority and ignores the equally Islamic teachings that oppressors must be resisted.

Rafizi Ramli asked those present to be more attentive to prosecutions under SOSMA (Security Offences (Special Measures) Act), POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and POCA (Prevention of Crime Act). He said he knew of many cases of unrepresented persons, including youths, who have been ordered to be detained for years for offences such as downloading videos which promote groups such as the so-called Islamic State.

Rama Ramanathan, Datuk Yeo Yang Poh, Tommy Thomas, S Gunasegaran
(Chairman, Johor Bar Committee), YB Rafizi Ramli, YB Khalid Samad

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