Malaysiakini Letter

'Dataran Merdeka should be open to all, including #TangkapMO1 rally'

Eric Paulsen  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Lawyers for Liberty is appalled at the biased stance of the police and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) when faced with the prospect of a public protest on Aug 27, dubbed #TangkapMO1 on the 1MDB scandal and in particular, Malaysian Official 1, as stated in the US Department of Justice forfeiture suit.

We wish to remind the authorities that it is not their place to protect the political interest of the prime minister or Umno but to uphold the Federal Constitution and to ensure citizens are able to exercise their basic rights and protect them from harm.

Each Malaysian possesses the constitutional right to peacefully assemble without arms in a public space.

The authorities should not further concoct a false image for the protest and thus creating unnecessary alarm.

The argument that the organisers have failed to adhere to the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) is false as the authorities would have never agreed to the protest at Dataran Merdeka in the first place.

Dataran Merdeka is a piece of public property with great historical significance and all Malaysians should have equal access to it irrespective of their political affiliation or support.

Needless to say, it is not for DBKL to decide arbitrarily and on a whim, who can or cannot have access.

Over the years, we have witnessed the blatant abuse of the PAA, targeting the opposition and rights activists while pro-government or pro-Umno assemblies are let off scot-free.

It is astonishing that the authorities still cite this piece of legislation as a method of facilitating assemblies, when in reality it is applied in an arbitrary manner to suppress opposition assemblies.

There have been numerous instances where organisers have attempted to adhere to the PAA but the authorities have made it virtually impossible to comply, thus forcing them to proceed nonetheless.

We are further appalled that three student activists were arrested and remanded for three days, ostensibly for offences under the PAA and Section 447 of the Penal Code for criminal trespass when they entered Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Seri Iskandar, Ipoh in order to promote the #TangkapMO1 rally.

A measure of the blame unfortunately must also go to the magistrate for rubber-stamping the police’s application for remand when clearly there was no merit in arresting and investigating these youths for these alleged offences.

There should be no doubt that these arrests are preposterous, clearly done in bad faith and constitute a gross abuse of power and the legal process aimed at punishing the youths for promoting the #TangkapMO1 rally.

We therefore urge the authorities to work with the organisers and facilitate the peaceful assembly instead of working against it by needlessly harassing, arresting and detaining them.

ERIC PAULSEN is the executive director of Lawyers for Liberty.

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