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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Permits for assembly unconstitutional, says lawyer


July 01, 2011

KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — Malaysians have the right to march as the Police Act 1967 that mandates permits for public assemblies violates the constitutional right to assemble peacefully, says PKR vice-president N. Surendran.

The human rights lawyer stressed that Malaysians had the right to march in the July 9 Bersih rally, pointing out that Article 10(2)(b) of the federal constitution merely restricted that right in the interest of national security.

“When you have section 27(5) (of the Police Act) that requires permits, it doesn’t just restrict the right... it nullifies the right,” said Surendran (picture) at a workshop organised by NGO Lawyers for Liberty last night.

“Any right that can only be exercised by the permission of the state is not a right; it’s a licence, and nowhere in the federal constitution does it say that this important right is a licence,” he added.

Surendran said the right to assemble peacefully, which is guaranteed under Article 10(1)b) of the federal constitution, could be restricted by merely requiring organisers to inform authorities before their rally, as practised in England.

“The Police Act is a dwarf compared to this document,” said Surendran, holding up a copy of the federal constitution before a 50-strong audience.

“Article 4 (of the federal constitution) says that any law that contravenes the federal constitution is not valid,” he added.

Election watchdog Bersih 2.0 has vowed to continue its demonstration on July 9 in the capital for electoral reform despite the authorities refusing to grant it a permit.

Bersih 2.0 chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, however, asked the police yesterday to suggest a route for its march to ensure that the rally goes off without a hitch.

The group will take to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on July 9 to hand a memorandum to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to demand free and fair elections.

The government, however, insists that elections are already free and fair, citing the opposition’s historic gains in Election 2008.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) hopes the demonstration will generate momentum ahead of a general election expected within a year.

The first Bersih rally in 2007 saw up to 50,000 people march in the capital before being dispersed by police armed with tear gas and water cannons.

The demonstration has been partly credited for PR’s record gains in the 2008 general election when the opposition pact swept to power in five states and won 82 parliamentary seats.

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