Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Malaysian Bar:- Malaysia Must Not Become an Authoritarian State

Press Release | Malaysia Must Not Become an Authoritarian State
Tuesday, 02 September 2014 07:32pm
ImageThe Malaysian Bar is heavily critical of the recent spate of arrests under the Societies Act 1966 and prosecutions under the Sedition Act 1948 and Penal Code.  The raft of arrests and prosecutions of individuals lately shows that we are undergoing an intense period of oppression against citizenry and regression in the rule of law marked by the aggressive curtailment of rights and fundamental liberties under our Federal Constitution.

These individuals are being charged for allegedly criticising or insulting political parties and critiquing or making comments, albeit adverse ones, with respect to court judgments.  These are clearly not offences that are envisaged by, and that are within the ambit of, either the Sedition Act 1948 or the Penal Code.

In order for legal decisions to stand the test of time, they must survive the test of public scrutiny.  Only then can they be seen as sound judgments that will serve to govern our conduct and direct our actions.  In no way should criticism of court decisions, or how they came to be made, be viewed as seditious by virtue of being an affront to the administration of justice. 

The Malaysian Bar is particularly appalled with the charges that have been brought today against Associate Professor Azmi Sharom of Universiti Malaya.  His comments about the Perak constitutional crisis of 2009 are wholly within the purview of academic freedom and public discourse.   This cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, constitute sedition. 

Likewise, we reiterate that questioning the exercise of discretion should not be seen as being disrespectful to those to whom that discretion has been given, but a legitimate examination of the proper exercise of that discretion as permitted by law.

Secondly, our Federal Constitution gives to the state government jurisdiction over the administration of local government, which conceivably includes the creation of volunteer groups to assist with local administration.  The members of the Pasukan Petugas Sukarela (“PPS”) are volunteers recruited from the community by the state government.  Any question over the legality of such groups should be settled by way of federal-state government discussion, and not by the arrest and detention, and the threat of arrest and detention, of members of such volunteer groups.  
Even if there is a dispute as to the legitimacy of the PPS, whether under the Societies Act 1966 or otherwise, there appeared to be no imminent threat to national security, public safety or order that necessitated the police and Federal Reserve Unit to descend upon them in the manner that they did.  The arrest of members of the PPS immediately after their participation, at the invitation of the Penang State Government, in the Merdeka Day parade in Penang was therefore an unnecessary, unreasonable and disproportionate use of police powers and discretion.  

Power and discretion are conferred by legislation on the premise or presumption that they are to be exercised properly based on intelligence and common sense.  It appears that neither of these criteria was present.  It gives rise to the impression that the police are arbitrarily exercising their powers merely because they believe they can do so with impunity.  This is an abuse of power and process.

In that light, the threat by the Inspector General of Police to investigate and possibly to charge people who criticise or allegedly disrespect him on Twitter is seen as an intimidation of members of the public, and is another example of a wholly inappropriate response.  

The Prime Minister once famously declared that the days of “government knows best” are over.  Yet the actions by the authorities in recent days to detain, arrest and/or prosecute individuals who have been perceived to have challenged or questioned the authorities, deny the very humility that that declaration presupposes.

The Malaysian Bar calls upon the authorities to cease acting in a repressive and oppressive manner.  These recent events have made a mockery of the 57 years of independence that we have just celebrated.  Malaysia must not become an authoritarian state. 

Christopher Leong
Malaysian Bar
2 September 2014
See also:- 

SEDITION ACT - an draconian legislation that has no place in a true democracy?

Background about the PPS arrest

250 PPS members rounded up during Merdeka march in Penang

Members from the Penang voluntary patrol unit (in purple shirts) at the Lebuh Pantai police station after being arrested for taking part at the Merdeka march-past at Esplanade in Penang. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Husssain, August 31, 2014. 
Members from the Penang voluntary patrol unit (in purple shirts) at the Lebuh Pantai police station after being arrested for taking part at the Merdeka march-past at Esplanade in Penang. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Hasnoor Husssain, August 31, 2014.
About 250 members of Penang's Voluntary Patrol Unit (PPS) were arrested during the state-level Merdeka celebrations in George Town this morning, hours after Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi advised Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng not to challenge the police on the legality of the organisation.

The PPS members were stopped by the police immediately after they had participated in the official march-past, as part of the annual parade for the celebrations at the Padang Kota Lama about 10.15am.

They were taken to the nearby Lebuh Pantai police station for questioning. Police had the station cordoned off and guarded by the Federal Reserve Unit.

In his tweet today, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar urged PPS leaders to surrender or risk having their homes raided by police. "Elok lah mrk yg bertanggungjawap keatas PPS ini segera menyerah diri sebelum kami serbu kediaman. (It is better if those responsible for PPS to surrender before we start raiding their homes)," he said.

"We welcome initiatives to look after community safety but not by challenging the authorities.

"If there are parties wanting to assist and cooperate with police, put in the proper proposal and not by challenging the competence of parties responsibility for safety."

Ayer Itam assemblyman Wong Hon Wai said the police team waited for the PPS members at the tail end of the parade. He said the arrests went on without any untoward incident.

Khalid was on Friday quoted by Bernama as saying that PPS had appeared to stray from its objective when it was established four years ago, that is to serve the community.

Lim yesterday insisted that the unit had only helped the public during emergencies and disasters. He maintained that PPS was legal and legitimate as it was a state body instituted under the Penang government.

He had also said the state would accord full legal support to anyone who was arrested, and provide financial support for their families during their period in captivity.

By 11.15am, police had begun escorting the members in batches into police cars and trucks, to be taken to the George Town District police headquarters at Jalan Patani.

The PPS members mostly seemed unfazed, and were seen raising their arms to supporters and relatives who had gathered outside the station.

At about 11.50am, two yellow school buses were driven and left waiting in front of the station. More PPS members were then led out to be driven away in the buses.

Some supporters were heard shouting in Hokkien "mein kia" (be not afraid) as some of the members waved the Malaysian flag and showed the "thumbs-up" sign.

George Town district police chief ACP Mior Faridalatrash Wahid was present but was tight-lipped and gave no comments to reporters.

State executive councillor in charge of the PPS, Phee Boon Poh, expressed disappointment with the police action.

He said there were only two misdemeanour allegations against a small number of PPS members. The first saw a member apologising and pleading guilty to assaulting a reporter, while investigations are still ongoing for the second incident.

"Just because of two incidents you want to disband (PPS)," he said, adding that the unit has by and large contributed by helping with much-needed community policing, and during emergencies and disasters like floods, fires and road accidents.

A crowd of supporters and relatives had by noon also begun to converge outside the district headquarters.

Lim is expected to arrive and give a press statement. – August 31, 2014.
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