Malaysian Bar Press Release: Respect The Right For Clean And Peaceful Walk

Much has been said about the proposed BERSIH 2.0 rally calling for a clean and fair electoral process. This is scheduled to take place on 9 July 2011. Other groups have also announced their own plans for a rally to take place on the same day.

Police reports have been lodged against BERSIH 2.0 opposing the rally, and there have been calls to arrest the organisers of the BERSIH 2.0 march under the Internal Security Act 1960.

It should be recalled that it was the United Malays National Organisation (“UMNO”), led by Dato’ Onn Jaafar, the then-President of UMNO and the grandfather of our present Minister for Home Affairs, which led the public to the streets nationwide to protest the setting up of the Malayan Union. Subsequent UMNO leaders have also led street demonstrations, for example to call for independence, and those in support of the Palestinians.

Public rallies have therefore been very much a part and parcel of our history, whether to protest against the injustices of colonial administration, or other injustices, such as those we are currently experiencing with respect to our electoral system. Those who say that street protests are not a part of our culture are clearly ignorant of our nation’s rich history.

A public march is very different from an event held in a stadium or other fixed venue. The purpose of a public demonstration is to invite public attention to a particular cause or concern. The right to advocate one’s views and opinions in the public arena in a peaceful manner is a foundational human rights principle.

The response in the past, and the response which ought to be adopted today, is to respect the right to assemble and walk in support of a cause. This is a fundamental feature of democracy, contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), which was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. Malaya in 1957, and Malaysia in 1963, embraced and accepted the UDHR when admitted to the United Nations. Our Federal Constitution enshrines the right to freedom of assembly and expression in Article 10.

The Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police (headed by Tun Mohd Dzaiddin), which reported in May 2005, recommended to the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong that section 27 of the Police Act 1967 – requiring a permit for a public rally – be abolished. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, SUHAKAM, has made a similar recommendation to the government on several occasions.

The Malaysian Bar supports and defends this fundamental freedom, and calls upon the government to do likewise. We point to the positive and salutary examples that the Polis DiRaja Malaysia (“PDRM”) demonstrated in cooperating with the organisers of the “Walk and Rawk for Change” (held on 26 March 2011), and the two anti-Lynas rallies (on 30 March 2011 and 20 May 2011). In these three events, PDRM allowed a public rally and demonstration to take place, notwithstanding that no police permit had been applied for. The police monitored the routes and managed traffic flows in order to allow those participating in these marches to walk and express their viewpoints in safety.

PDRM has therefore shown that it is possible for peaceful public rallies to take place when organisers of such gatherings and the police cooperate with each other. This occurs regularly in more mature democracies, and it has happened in Malaysia. We should allow such practices to continue.

With proper liaising and co-operation, we feel that it IS possible for PDRM and the organisers of the BERSIH 2.0 march, and any other walks, to work together to allow for the public to exercise their fundamental rights in a clean, peaceful and responsible manner. Let us use this opportunity to promote, enhance and celebrate democracy.

Lim Chee Wee
Malaysian Bar

23 June 2011

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