Allow Freedom of Assembly
The Centre for Public Policy Studies regrets the police prohibition of and use of violence on a number of recent gatherings in Kuala Lumpur.
Two weeks ago on the 10 th November 2007, BERSIH, a coalition of non-Governmental organisations and political parties, organised a march to submit a memorandum calling for measures to ensure free and fair elections in the country.
More recently, on Sunday the 25 th November 2007, Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) organised a rally to submit a memorandum calling for equal treatment of Indians, highlighting their socio-economic marginalisation in the country.
The Government has responded by saying that demonstrations are unnecessary, that memorandums should be handed in personally, and that any concerns can be brought up in forums through a consultative approach.
However, such forums, panels and meetings have been conducted on numerous occasions to little avail. These articulations are compiled into reports and submitted to various committees, but it is precisely inaction and non-response from the Government that has fuelled frustrations amongst those groups who have not received equal treatment.
Article 10 of the Federal Constitution guarantees that every citizen has the right to assemble peaceably. This is affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The BERSIH and HINDRAF rallies were peaceful gatherings and should not be misconstrued as otherwise.
1. The CPPS calls on the Government to recognise the rights of civil society to freedom of assembly. The right to freely assemble peacefully is one of the hallmarks of a democratic society. If we want to consider ourselves a true democracy, then the police should stop immediately its highhanded excessive use of force at dispersing peaceful crowds, including the use of tear gas and unrelenting water cannons at peaceful demonstrations and rallies.
We need to urgently review the policy and processes regarding the provision of permits for peaceful assembly as guaranteed in our Federal Constitution. If the police had given permits to assemble and march peacefully, subject, of course, to reasonable and agreed-upon terms, the unnecessary disruption and subsequent chaos would have been avoided.
2. The CPPS also urges the Government to examine the root causes of the deep sense of grievance and frustration that underlie these rallies and demonstrations . The issues being raised by civil society organisations recently are valid and should be urgently considered. The views and opinions of this large cross-section of society cannot be swept under the carpet. These expressions of frustration and anger arise from a significant proportion of the Malaysian public. These must be factored into policy-making processes, and not ignored.
3. At the same time, it would be useful for the Government to meet the leaders of these rallies and find out more about their grievances , taking action to resolve outstanding problems that have adversely affected sections of the Malaysian society. New approaches are urgently needed to ensure greater national unity, peace, stability and progress.
Tan Sri Dato’ (Dr.) Ramon V. Navaratnam
Centre for Public Policy Studies
26th November 2007