Thursday, May 03, 2012

SUHAKAM: Freedom Of Expression And The Right To A Peaceful Assembly Must Be Protected And Respected



The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (the Commission) is deeply disappointed and concerned over various reported incidents, including those reported by its monitoring teams, that took place during the public rally held on 28 April 2012,  in particular, allegations of the heavy-handed and arbitrary manner by which the police dispersed members of the public. The Commission is also appalled by the alleged treatment of the police of members of the media, who are duty-bound to professionally and ethically record, document and report any event of public interest; some were allegedly assaulted while two reporters were reportedly arrested, besides having their equipment damaged or confisticated by the authorities.  The Commission also notes with great concern instances of unruly and disorderly conduct and behaviour on the part of some of the participants of the rally.  Nevertheless, the use of disproportionate and unwarranted force against the participants of the rally as well as members of the media is  an unacceptable conduct on the part of the police whose duty is to maintain law and order and public security in a professional manner, more so when handling and facilitating public assemblies.

The Commission, in its Annual Reports as well as the reports of the Public Inquiry with regard to the excessive use of force by the police during public assemblies, has repeatedly called upon the authorities, where they find it necessary to control or disperse a crowd during an assembly, to employ proportionate and nonviolent methods. Furthermore, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials also provides that law enforcement officials shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force.

Although the Commission has on several occasions  offered to act as a mediator between the police and the organisers of public assemblies in order to arrive at an amicable consensus between the parties before the event, unfortunately, such offers were rejected.  It has also on numerous occasions called upon the authorities to allow and to facilitate the right of the people to assemble peacefully.  The Commission had also urged the police to facilitate the people’s exercise of their right to assemble peacefully and to express their views without jeopardising the rights of others to conduct their daily lives and affairs with minimum disruption. That participants in similar rallies held in a few other places like Georgetown, Kuantan, Johor Bahru, Ipoh, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, were allowed to assemble and disperse in a peaceful, orderly and responsible manner without any untoward incident is testimony to the feasibility of such measures.  

The Commission wishes to reiterate its stand that while it acknowledges that peace and stability are paramount and that public order needs to be maintained at all times, it is also of the view that public assemblies provide an avenue for the public to express themselves on issues that are of concern. These rights are provided for under Article 10(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution and Article 20(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as well as the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011, and Article 19 of the UDHR on freedom of expression.   

Nonetheless, in the quest for a full functional democracy, the Commission has frequently urged all parties to exercise their rights responsibly in ensuring that peace and safety of all involved are safeguarded and equally important, that the rights of other people who are indirectly involved must also be respected and protected.

At this juncture, the Commission is calling upon members of the public and the media as well as the relevant authorities who had witnessed any acts or incidents relating to the allegations of infringements of human rights during the rally of 28th April 2012 to submit the relevant information, other documents and evidence to the Commission as soon as possible for its investigation.  In the interim, the Commission will discuss this matter, analyse the evidence gathered and study the reports of its monitoring team in considering its next course of action.  

For further inquiry and submission of information and documents, please contact:
Complaints, Inquiry and Monitoring Group
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM)
11th Floor, Menara TH Perdana
Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50250 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2612 5600; Fax: 03-2612 5694/5620                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


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