Surendran: Peaceful Assembly Act contradictory to the Constitution

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Last Updated: 6:18pm, May 15, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR (May 15): Padang Serai MP and lawyer, N. Surendran described the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) as being contradictory to the Constitution that allows freedom of assembly to Malaysians.

In a public forum on implications of the recent Court of Appeal (CoA) decision on Selangor’s deputy speaker Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad case, he called the judgement being a landmark decision as the rights of the people was finally restored by the court.

Prior to PAA, the Police Act 1967 stipulated that a permit was required for assembly, in which Surendran stressed that this was against the constitutional right much like PAA.

“Under the old law you have no right to the freedom of assembly because if you want to assemble you need the OCPD's permission. There is no such thing as a right when you have to ask somebody for permission.”

Under PAA, Section 9(1) requires an organiser to provide a 10-day notification to the authorities before a rally takes place, failure to do so is punishable under Section 9(5) which carries a penalty of RM10,000 fine.

Article 10 of the Federal Constitution guarantees Malaysian citizens the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.

“When we achieved Independence in 1957, the Federal Constitution stipulated the right to peacefully assemble but the government never allowed people to enjoy that right.

“From Aug 31, 1957 the rakyat only finally managed to enjoy that right on April 25, 2014 when the CoA finally upheld the right of people to freely assemble,” he said.

He was referring to the decision made by Justices Datuk Mohamad Arif Md Yusof, Datuk Mah Weng Kwai and Datuk Dr Hamid Sultan Abu Backer who ruled that it was unconstitutional to criminalise organisers of peaceful assemblies for failing to give notice of the event to the police.

In the forum, Surendran said among the reasons given by Mah in arriving at the judgement includes saying that the section makes a mockery of the right to peacefully assemble.

“I subscribe to the view that the starting point in a consideration of a constitutional provision such as Article 10 is to recognise the principle that the Federal Constitution exist to protect the rights of the citizens rather than to restrict or to whittle them down.

“The section makes a mockery of the right of the appellant to freedom of peaceful assembly by criminalising the default in failing to give the necessary notice to the Ketua Polis Daerah,” was among the reasons written by Mah.

Student activist Adam Adli who was also a speaker at the forum started his talk with debunking demonstrations myths propagated by certain quarters.

He said among the top reasons given that demonstration is bad is that businesses will suffer losses, which he adamantly stressed was not the case.

“Vendors never suffer a loss. The keropok lekor sold at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman were sold out during May Day.

“During Bersih rally, 7-Eleven bottled mineral water were sold out,” he said, causing a round of giggling in the room.

He also disagreed with claims that people who attend demonstrations are rallying without a cause.

Adam said the function of democracy was to give voice to the people but with only 222 parliamentarians as the people’s representatives, some of the common people voices are left unheard.

“When the people want to be heard they need to do it in mass to amplify the message so that it can be heard.

“That is why the rakyat conduct demonstrations,” he said.

The people only have forums and rallies to make their voice heard, Adam laments, even this right to peacefully assemble is being restricted.

Lawyer Eric Paulsen who was also present imparted some of his thoughts on the act as he was experienced in both being charged on it and also defending his client Adam against it.

He believed that PAA cases were a waste of police resources as police were reduced to doing job such as documenting the entire peaceful rally instead of working on other important cases.

“Evidence in PAA cases are produced by a large team of police officers who documents and transcribes every single thing that transpires in demos.

“It's also a surreal experience to be listening to people being charged, punished for assembling peacefully under misnomer of a law,” he said.

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