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Police Should Facilitate, Not Disincentivise or Intimidate, Right to Peacefully Assemble

Today, 15 organisers and/or speakers of the #Kepung Demi Palestin rally, including myself, were called in to record statements and assist with investigations under Section 9(5) of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012.

This investigation is an absolute waste of time, when the six-day assembly was conducted in a peaceful manner whilst the police were present to ensure public safety. On this note, investigating 15 organisers and speakers unnecessarily consumes limited police resources, when these officers and time spent could have been directed towards actual crime cases.

Moreover, post-assembly investigations, a longstanding tactic by the police, are also an act that intimidates individuals and disincentivises them from legitimately exercising their right to express themselves collectively and on a wider level, political participation. As long as non-violence is upheld, the right to peacefully assemble is inalienable, regardless of whether notice has been given or not. The police’s role to facilitate, and not to arbitrate on, public assemblies is clear in PAA 2012, not only by justifications of need for preparation time to ensure peace and security from current and past Home Ministers to retain the notification requirement, but also via the absence of provisions stipulating that assemblies held without giving notice are unlawful.

Equally importantly, the violence against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is an urgent human rights atrocity of not only high public interest but also volatile in developments. This makes the organisation of spontaneous assemblies inevitable. Current investigations only reinforce the reprehensible fact that such assemblies are generally not allowed, perpetuated by factors some of which I have mentioned, such as the lack of concerted understanding by the police force in their role to facilitate public assemblies.

Full sensitisation of the police force to truly uphold and protect the fundamental right to peaceful assembly is long overdue, when the PAA was enforced 11 years ago. With the start of 2024, also the year for Malaysia to reaffirm its human rights commitments through the Universal Periodic Review, it is also time for the police to reaffirm theirs as well, via a reduction in post-assembly investigations against peaceful protests in general, and increased cooperation to facilitate spontaneous public assemblies.

In solidarity,

Sevan Doraisamy (Executive Director at SUARAM)

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