Activist’s arrest shows why public assembly procedure must be reviewed – Suaram

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Though just for one hour, the arrest and detention of activist Harmit Singh outside the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur on 24 February was a dark one.

This deprivation of liberty took place even before the protest began, signifying in plain sight criminalisation of the activist for participating in the Gegar Amerika (Shake America) rally.

“Disobedience’ as alleged by the police for Harmit’s arrest, is highly problematic, when the restriction issued by the police to not go past where the officers stood is neither necessary nor legitimate.

There was no basis to presume that the rally would become violent, given full compliance by organisers with peaceful assembly procedures.

A notice was submitted as per the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA), and a facilitation meeting with the police took place before the rally. Hence the police were already fully aware of the purpose of the rally, which was to submit a memorandum to the embassy.

It is also noteworthy that non-violence has been unwaveringly observed by multiple rallies held outside the embassy gates since October 2023, with the six-day Demi Kepung Palestin (Against the Siege of Palestine) in December last year the most recent one.

In addition, there was no traffic obstruction or threat to safety of other civilians involved, given the small scale of the rally and assembly participants gathering along the same side of the road as the embassy.

Instead of arresting Harmit, the police should have facilitated the rally, allowing him to peacefully protest alongside other participants.

This criminalisation tramples on laws that safeguard that right, namely Article 10(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution and the PAA.

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It also has a chilling effect on the exercise of right to freedom of expression overall, which can only deter constructive democratic participation, including by the people of Malaysia.

Our civic space is still far from being a safe and enabling one for all to speak up on critical issues without fear and reprisals despite legal safeguards. Attitudes and actions by law enforcement remained a long-standing barrier hindering substantial progress on that front.

This is a stark reality that was also highlighted by member states last month when Malaysia’s human rights performance was reviewed in the Universal Periodic Review process. It is high time the government acknowledges and addresses this issue.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) calls for a thorough review of police procedures regarding public assembly facilitation.

The prohibition of tactics of intimidation should be prioritised, and the grounds in which restrictions can be applied should be based on the principles of necessity, proportionality and legitimacy specified.

The full sensitisation of police officers through training of their role is crucial in ensuring that the policing of public assemblies is done in a human rights-compliant manner.

Sevan Doraisamy is executive director of Suaram

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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