Constitutional Law 1 Project
Article 10 (1)(b) of The Federal Constitution
Freedom of Assembly
Article 10 (1) (b) of the Federal Constitution provides the right to assemble peaceably and without arms for citizens. But parliament may by law impose restrictions it deems necessary or expedient in the interest of the security of the Federation or any part thereof or public order. There are various impediments to be found in the existing laws. Prominent among these is the Police Act 1967 which give the power to regulate assembly to the police.
Based on the video presentation, give your comment.
The Bersih Assembly was held on the 10th of November 2007. The purpose of this peaceful assembly was to gather 100,000 Malaysians who were concerned over the nature of which the General Elections were being conducted by the Election Commission in our country to hand over a memorandum to the Yang Di Pertuan Agong. Among the issues raised in the memorandum was the expression of concern by the people over the previous General Election held by the Election Commission where questions arose over the transparency of the election and the alleged biasness portrayed by the commission towards the ruling government.
However, the permit application for the assembly was not granted by the police on these accounts:
· If the purpose of the assembly were solely to hand over a memorandum to the YDPA, there is no need for the gathering of 100,000 participants and extensive campaigns over the period of 2-3 months prior to the assembly. The assembly was allegedly modeled over the demonstration held by supporters of Corazon Aquino in the Philippines to topple the ruling government. Yellow was also the color of Corazon Aquino’s supporter.
· By previous accounts, assemblies and demonstrations organized by the opposition party usually ends in riot and unrests as these assemblies are fuelled by racial and religious issues. This is very unnecessary due to the fact that Malaysia is a multi ethnic and multi religion country and very sensitive towards such issues.
· The assembly was supposedly not a “Malaysian culture” and it is unnecessary for participants to import foreign culture and cause unrest in the country since it was the Visit Malaysia Year where such assembly will negatively affect it
On my observation none of the reasons given by the police justifies the refusal to grant the permit to allow the assembly to take place lawfully. I base my arguments on the Article 10 (1) (b) of the Federal Constitution. In this article, it is mentioned that the Federal Constitution provides the right to assemble peaceably and without arms for citizens. To deliberate the article further and to relate to the assembly we must look at the assembly its nature. The constitution has guaranteed all citizens of Malaysia the rights of peaceful assembly and without arm. The Bersih Assembly organizer had organized the assembly in accordance with the article down to the core; this is proven where there was no ferocity dealt by the participants. All of the participants were aware of the peaceful nature of the assembly and all of them had followed the rules. It is interesting to point out that while our local media reported that the participants were acting violently and causing unrest, Al-Jazeera a well known international media agency reported in contrast saying that the assembly was a peaceful one but the police provoked the participants and had “attacked “the participants with tear gas and sprayed chemically mixed water towards the assembly.
Now let’s look at the reasons given by the police on why they had denied the permit for the assembly. The first reason is that the police department questioned the need for 100,000 people to join the assembly and the extensive campaigning. To me, it does not matter how many people are joining the assembly since the purpose of assembly is to gather people and to allow them to voice out and get their opinion heard. The larger the number of an assembly simply signifies the importance and the support that the issue is getting from the people all over the country and rather than seeing it as a threat it should be seen as an indicator on the importance of the matter raised. The Federal Constitution under the Article 10 (1)(b) mentions nothing on the number of participants allowed for an assembly to be considered as “peaceful”, thus the excuse of 100,000 participants to be excessive and unnecessary for the purpose of delivering a memorandum does not make any sense and utterly ridiculous.
What this means is that rather than fighting off these people and ignoring what they have to say the government should have acted in a more respectable manner and really listen to the plight of the people.
As a country which is said to adhere to the principal constitutional supremacy, this is a clear violation to the very principal that our country champions. By not allowing the participants to assemble the government through the police department had denied the basic rights of Malaysians to assemble peacefully. Malaysia is also a democratic country and this is also contradictive to a democratic system which not just allows but also encourages the people to voice out their opinion in order to create a country that truly represents the people and the people’s need. For Aristotle the underlying principle of democracy is freedom, since only in a democracy the citizens can have a share in freedom. In essence, he argues that this is what every democracy should make its aim. We are now being deprived from our right to not just voice out our opinion but also our right to assemble and express our feelings.
Over recent years Amnesty International, along with the National Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) and the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysian Police, has called on the government of Malaysia to amend section 27 of the Police Act. The section stipulates that a police permit is required for public assemblies. Under the Police Act anyone participating in a demonstration can be arrested and detained for ‘illegal assembly’. Amnesty International recommends that the Malaysian authorities implement the recommendations contained within the reports from SUHAKAM and the Royal Commission that also give guidance on police procedures during the dispersal of demonstrations and issuance of permits.
Section 27(2) of the Police Act 1967 mentions:
Any person intending to convene or collect any assembly or meeting or to form a procession in any public place aforesaid, shall before convening, collecting or forming such assembly, meeting
or procession make to the Officer in Charge of the Police Districtin which such assembly, meeting or procession is to be held an application for a licence in that behalf, and if such police officer is satisfied that the assembly, meeting or procession is not likely to be prejudicial to the interest of the security of Malaysia or any part thereof or to excite a disturbance of the peace, he shall issue a license in such form as may be prescribed specifying the name of the licensee and defining the conditions upon which such assembly, meeting or procession is permitted:
Provided that such police officer may at any time on any ground for which the issue of a license under this subsection may be refused, cancel such license.
With the assembly permit application resting on the police department’s discretion, I find it hard to believe that the granting of the permit will be without biasness towards the ruling government. This is because the police department is as we know under the Prime Minister thus there will be a question of integrity whether to grant the permit towards the people and insure that democracy is upheld or incur the wrath of the government. An old English saying has it “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”. Surely those who is in charge will think twice before deciding.
In the video, the then deputy prime minister, Dato Sri Najib Tun Razak had made a comment saying that the assembly was disturbing the peace and threatens the stability of the country. This is to me an appalling comment by him due to the fact it is the people’s right to assemble peaceably and without arms. As a man of politics he should have known better. The government in this instance should have allowed the people to assemble peacefully and not only that they should have provided the participants of the assembly the proper place and channel for them to express their feelings and hand out their memorandum to the YDPA. This is contradictive of his now famous “1 Malaysia, Rakyat Didahulukan , Pencapaian Diutamakan” tagline which tries to focus on the well being f the people. In this video, all we can see is the government’s interest who is being taken care of not the people. I would like to point out that in the United Kingdom, there is a religious group known as the Neturei Karta, which is an orthodox Jewish group who opposes the terrorist state of Israel. As we all know the United Kingdom is an important ally for the terrorist state of Israel; however this group is still allowed to have a peaceful assembly outside of the Israeli Ambassador during a visit from the Prime Minister of Israel to the United Kingdom knowing that this assembly may have a detrimental effect on the countries’ two way relationship. The police department in contrast to Malaysia had even helped the assembly to gather and express their feelings in front of the Israeli Ambassador.
On a much recent account, in America the issue of the building of the Cordoba Mosque or better known as the Ground Zero Mosque has caused much tension in the States. We can see there are many assemblies are being held around the Ground Zero where people are expressing their feelings whether they are supporting the building the mosque or against the building of the mosque. We all know how sensitive of an issue ground zero is in the States, and yet the government is willing to give the people a chance to express their feelings and let it be heard all over the country if not all over the world. The police were there just to keep peace and were never there to stop the assembly or to help them. We can only imagine how our police department will behave if this were to happen here in Malaysia where people can’t even criticize our government without the fear of being locked up under the Internal Security Act better known as ISA.
In conclusion, I would like to say that there must be a serious and organized move to ensure that the rights of Malaysian are protected from being violated. The right to assembly is an important part for a democratic country because it gives people the freedom to express their feelings and voice out their opinions. If this were to be allowed to continue, our country’s democracy will diminish. Malaysia has already been seen as a country where the freedom of speech and the human rights to be very limited. Any further human rights violation will damage our country’s image in the eyes of the world. Amnesty International has already voiced out their concern over our country’s’ human rights condition. For the sake of our country and for safeguarding the democracy that our forefathers had sacrificed to gain we must take serious actions to ensure that the future generations will have a truly democratic and free country.