The basic rights of Malaysians as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution have been undermined over the years due to a weak judiciary, a civil rights lawyer said yesterday.
N. Surendran, who is also PKR vice-president, said one such example was the freedom to assemble peacefully but this right was denied in the repealed Police Act 1967.
“Under this law, one must seek permission from the police first before gathering in public,” he told a public forum on the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) held at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall last night.
Surendran said it was absurd for citizens to ask for permission to assemble peacefully when this right was enshrined in the Merdeka Constitution.
“The citizens were unable to exercise this right because our judiciary was too weak to give effect to what was already in the supreme law,” he said.
Surendran said the provision in the Police Act, that required people to have a permit to gather, should have been declared unconstitutional a long time ago.
He said the Police Act which replaced the PAA in 2012 was in fact “old wine in a new bottle” as new restrictions were placed.
Surendran said this in reference to the unanimous Court of Appeal decision to strike down Section 9 (5) of the PAA as unconstitutional in the case of Seri Setia assemblyman Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad.
Nik Nazmi, the organiser of the 505 Blackout rally at the Kelana Jaya stadium, was charged with failure to give a 10-day notice to the police last year.
The court acquitted him of the charge but the public prosecutor had appealed to the Federal Court and hearing has been scheduled for May 27.
Surendran, who is also the lead counsel for Nik Nazmi, said one of the three judges who presided over the case, said that the section made a mockery of the right of the appellant to freedom of peaceful assembly just because he failed to give notice.
He said the judge Datuk Mah Weng Kwai had also pointed out that the interest of the public attending the assembly should override the countervailing interest of the road users and traders.
Surendran said he would be writing to the Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria that an enlarged panel be constituted to hear the appeal as the principles advanced by the Court of Appeal had wide implications over other rights like freedom of speech and association.
Student activist Adam Adli said Putrajaya had been attempting to convince the people that demonstrations would affect the business community and that there would be chaos with demonstrators aiming to topple the government.
“Gatherings since 2007 proved we could assemble peacefully and yet the Barisan Nasional government still remained in power,” he said.
He said citizens gathered to express their opinions and feelings on issues that affected them.
Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen said resources were wasted as the police stationed its personnel to monitor assemblies.
“They should be assisting the public like traffic control and see that no untoward incident happened,” he said.
Paulsen accused Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak of being a false democrat as his administration introduced laws like the PAA, the Prevention of Crime Act and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act that stifled basic rights.
“When overseas, he assures the West that his government will give effect to human rights but his action at home does not match his words,” he added.
BY V. ANBALAGAN, ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR, The Malaysian Insider