Monday, December 06, 2010

Malaysian Bar : Respect public expression of dissent

Press Release
Respect public expression of dissent
Regrettably, the police persists in favouring a repressive and heavy-handed approach when, as was the case yesterday, numerous members of the public gathered to express their viewpoint on an issue of concern to them.

The Malaysian Bar deplores the police’s harsh treatment of ordinary citizens who showed up to support the handover of a memorandum to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, especially as access to water at an affordable cost is clearly a matter of great public interest. 
Intimidatory tactics were employed, including the dispersal and arrest of individuals even prior to the gathering. The police also displayed excessive and disproportionate force in their indiscriminate use of tear gas and water cannons on the crowd.

Repeated calls for the police to embrace the public’s increased articulation of viewpoints as a positive development in our society, and to accord it the necessary democratic space to flourish, continue to fall on deaf ears. The Government has indicated its intention to review section 27 of the Police Act to allow more latitude, but the actions of the police stand in stark contradiction to this avowed goal.

The police could have permitted the gathering to take place peacefully and with minimal disruption, while preserving public order and ensuring the safety of all participants. This approach would have dispelled any perception that the police behaves in a biased manner, and acts selectively to stifle only gatherings that voice dissenting views.

It is time for the police to take active measures to protect the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly. It is time for the police to exercise restraint, and to cease muzzling public opinion and persecuting those who speak their minds. It is time for the police to move away from a “police state” mindset and to accept, and work within, the current environment.

It is time, indeed it is long past the time, for the police to recognise and uphold the clear wish of the people to assemble peaceably and to express their opinions.

Ragunath Kesavan
Malaysian Bar
6 Dec 2010

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