Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) condemns the statement of Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi giving warning to organisers and participants of the May 1st anti-Goods and Services Tax (GST) rally to obey the law or face stern action if conditions set by the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 are not followed, and the statement of the Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar reportedly saying that those intending to hold rallies and assemblies still have to inform the police, despite the recent Court of Appeal ruling that Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, which requires organisers of rally to give a 10-day notice to police, is unconstitutional.
We are further appalled by the statement of Penang state police chief Abdul Rahim Hanafi for calling the planned anti-GST rally in Butterworth tomorrow by the Malaysian Trade Union Congress as “illegal” as they have yet to receive any application for the rally.
The right to freedom of assembly is enshrined in Article 20 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and this right is also guaranteed in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. The duty of the government and the police is uphold the Federal Constitution and protect this right rather than clamping it down.
It is plain clear from the ruling of the Court of Appeal, that the constitutional right of the people to freedom of assembly must be respected and to criminalise failure to notify police is undermining such right and unconstitutional. The Home Minister and the Inspector-General of Police should stop threatening and intimidating May 1st rally organisers and participants but obey and enforce the Court of Appeal ruling by instructing the police force to facilitate the participation of public members in the rally and conduct traffic control in order to ensure the rally is held smoothly.
The statement of the Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, who said that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) will not allow the rally to take place at Dataran Merdeka even if the organisers applied for a permit, is uncalled for and smacks of sheer abuse of power. The minister should be reminded that Dataran Merdeka is a public space and the question of application of permit with Kuala Lumpur City Hall does not arise.
May 1st celebration is nothing new in Malaysia. Every year, a group of organised crowd celebrate the workers day in the spirit of workers’ solidarity for better protection of worker’s rights. Globally, Mayday is celebrated similarly as any other festive celebrations. Rallies, songs, music, speeches, colourful banners, flags and sound fills the atmosphere all over the world on May 1st. It marks the respect for workers who fought hard for 8 hours work a day and a decent living wages.
It has always been proven that civil society has been able to organise large public rallies peacefully without violence, as illustrated in the rallies of Bersih, Himpunan Hijau, Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA. Time and again, rallies only turn ugly when the police failed to respect the right to peaceful assembly of the people and started to use force to disperse protestors violently. The police force needs to learn from this public perception and change their modus operandi towards peaceful rallies.
We call on the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) to send representatives to monitor the rally in order to ensure that the police conduct itself in accordance to the recommendations of the commission made to the police in facilitating peaceful assembly and respecting the right to freedom of assembly of the people, in line with the ruling of the Court of Appeal.
In view of the unconstitutionality of the Peaceful Assembly Act, the government should repeal the act in order for the right to peaceful assembly of the people to be fully respected.