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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

'No peace with street demonstrations?'

More than a thousand lawyers and ordinary citizens, led by the Bar Council, marched on Parliament this morning to oppose the Peaceful Assembly Bill.

Meanwhile, inside the August house, government lawmakers were adamant with pushing ahead with the Bill that would outlaw street demonstrations, citing public order as a reason.

NONEIronically, despite the concern, only one traffic police officer was deployed to Lake Gardens during the Bar Council rally.

It was only after they began to march were they stonewalled by a phalanx of over 40 Light Strike Force officers, 500m from the Parliament entrance, but no effort was made to disperse the crowd.

Across the street, just a stone’s throw away, a counter-protest of some 100 people had set fire to yellow T-shirts, a trademark colour of electoral reform group Bersih, but the police swiftly and dutifully moved in to put out the fire.

The two opposing groups eventually dispersed in an orderly manner after their representatives had submitted their memorandum to Parliament.

NONE“Today clearly showed there was no trouble, that people could march peacefully even though there was only minimal police presence,” said PKR vice-president and lawyer N Surendran.

He added that as was seen today, the federal constitution was sufficient and all that was required were rules for how police should act; permits or a law banning street demonstrations were unnecessary.

This was further illustrated by Dang Wangi OCPD Zulkarnain Abd Rahman, the leader of today’s police operation, who said: “Everything was under control, no untoward incident happened. It’s just that they blocked the road, but it was manageable.”

‘We’ve still got several avenues’

Despite today’s effort to pressure the MPs into defeating the Bill and its testament that street demonstrations can be peaceful, the law is expected to enter the statute books.

NONEHowever, lawyer Edmund Bon, who was one of the speakers at today’s rally, insisted that the protest was a success.

“For us, it was very simple, to make our point to encourage the public to oppose the Bill,” he said when contacted.

He added that if the government is adamant in passing the law, the Bar Council will exhaust all avenues to remove it.

“If it becomes law, then the Bar will have to sit down and consider what we can do. There are many options, we can challenge the constitutionality of the law in court, organise more protests and we may even engage the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

“Despite the law, we will continue to conduct acts of civil disobedience (to say) that it (the law) is bad.”

‘Expect more street demos’

Surendran, when contacted, also agreed that street demonstrations will continue regardless of whether they are legal or illegal until the law is removed.

“The people will have to go down and carry out more peaceful protests against the Bill, there will be more mobilisation of protest. Definitely there will be larger ones on the way,” he said when contacted.

NONEOnce the Bill is passed with the ruling coalition’s majority, it will proceed to the Dewan Negara and then later gazetted as a full-fledged Act of Parliament with what the Bar Council has described as “unholy haste”.

The solution, says Surendran, would be as a participant described this morning, “protest for the right to protest”.

“I don’t think legal challenges will be of any use, there is little hope that they will outlaw the legislation passed by BN,” said Surendran, pointing to the fact that the judiciary was not truly independent.

Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee, when addressing protesters outside Parliament after handing over a memorandum to the government, also had said that this was “not the end”.

“We must continue knocking on the door of Parliament to ensure this law does not enter our statute books,” he said.

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