Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) have criticised the harassment, arrest and detention of the organisers of the Tangkap Malaysian Official 1 (TMO1) rally.
In a statement, LFL Executive Director Eric Paulsen said it was appalled with the biased stance of the police and the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) in relation to the rally.
He said it was not the authorities’ duty to protect the political interest of the Prime Minister or Umno but instead it is their duty to uphold the rights of citizens as enshrined under the Federal Constitution.
“Every Malaysian possesses the constitutional right to peaceful assembly in a public space.”
Paulsen said that the authorities’ argument that the organisers have failed to adhere to the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) was false, as they would have never agreed to the protest at Dataran Merdeka.
He said the public should have access to Dataran Merdeka, as it was a piece of public property with great historical significance, and DBKL should not be deciding on who had access to it or not.
Paulsen said it was also appalling that the three student activists were arrested on Saturday and remanded three days for offences under the PAA and Section 447 of the Penal Code for criminal trespass when they entered UiTM Seri Iskandar in Ipoh, Perak, to promote the rally.
“A measure of the blame unfortunately must also go to the magistrate for rubber-stamping the police’s application for remand when clearly there was no merit in arresting and investigating these youths for these alleged offences.”
He said over the years, the PAA, had been abused, with the opposition and rights activists targeted, while pro-government or pro-Umno assemblies were “let off scot-free”.
“It is astonishing that the authorities still cite this piece of legislation as a method of facilitating assemblies, when in reality it is applied in an arbitrary manner to suppress opposition assemblies,” he said, adding there have been numerous instances where organisers tried to adhere to the PAA, but the authorities have made it virtually impossible to comply.
Paulsen said the authorities should work with the organisers to facilitate peaceful assembly rather than working against it.
Last week, TMO1 spokesperson Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof said the rally will proceed at Dataran Merdeka, despite Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar advising the organisers to find another venue.