The Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (Centhra) is deeply disturbed by reports that the head of the red-shirts, Jamal Md Yunos, was allegedly punched in a scuffle with police at Ampang Point Mall in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur recently as well as the reactions of various quarters towards this incident.
Centhra understands that Ampang MP and Wanita PKR chief Zuraida Kamaruddin has threatened him with legal action over the incident, and Wanita MCA in particular have released a statement condoning the police action as well-deserved.
Meanwhile, commentators in news portals such as Ravinder Singh and Shahril Ahmad writing in Free Malaysia Today disdain the red-shirt’s right to free speech by branding the movement a ‘threat to peace’ and have demanded that the police clamp down on them.
On the other hand, not only have Bersih managed to escape similar criticism, but local as well as international organisations such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) have expressed fears that Bersih organisers are being subject to threats and harassment ahead of their planned rally in Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur this Nov 19.
Centhra also notes that while the Bar Council has invited all members of the Malaysian Bar to partake in its monitoring of the Bersih 5 rally for possible human rights violations, there is no standing offer made to monitor the counter-rally to be held by the red-shirts for similar violations of their rights on the same day.
The press release by George Varughese, vice-president of the Malaysian Bar on Nov 16, 2016 differentiating Bersih from the Red Shirts in the exercise of peaceful assembly amounts to blatant favouritism contrary to their duty to uphold justice without fear or favour and is extremely regrettable.
In the view of Centhra, these variations in treatment between the two groups ie Bersih and the red-shirts that are unwarranted and unjustifiable. The double standard by various quarters in particular within the government of the day, the opposition, statutory bodies such as the Malaysian Bar who are expected to know better, and also by both local and international non-governmental organisations are self-evident, glaringly obvious and cause for concern.
Centhra strongly condemns this blatant hypocrisy on their part and urges these quarters to immediately apologise for the discrepancy and make appropriate amends in respect of the same.
All parties are reminded that the right to freedom of speech and assembly are universal rights, so provided for pursuant to Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 10(1) of our constitution.
This right to free speech and assembly apply to all without differentiation, and Centhra urges all to respect this right as being legitimately exercised by both Bersih as well as the red-shirts both presently and in the run up to their respective rallies come this weekend.
‘Any distinction must be strongly condemned’
Centhra cannot accept that there can be any legitimate differentiation between the exercise of free speech and assembly between the two groups. Any distinction or attempted distinction between the two must therefore be strongly condemned by all Malaysians and all human rights defenders regardless of political or any other alignment.
It is to be further noted that there are not widely divergent if not similar allegations of impropriety and lawlessness on the part of the red-shirts as well as Bersih but these cannot and must not be used as justification to limit or prevent free speech and assembly for either party by the other, or any third party in respect of the two.
Both are to be afforded their due right to peaceably assemble, which must be duly respected by all. There must be no interference in the exercise of this right save as legitimately permitted by law.
The cause of free speech and assembly in particular and human rights in general, particularly with regard to the universality thereof, will not be served by hypocritical actions on the part of relevant parties. Such would instead hinder the cause by raising questions of legitimacy.
We therefore reiterate our urging that all the relevant quarters in particular the media as well as UNHCHR, MCA, PKR and the Bar Council in particular withdraw any unfair favouritism on their part so this may be avoided.
AZRIL MOHD AMIN is a lawyer and chief executive of the Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (Centhra).