Likening the Red Shirts movement to electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 risks legitimising the former’s violent actions, a lawyer has said.
Lawyer Syahredzan Johan, who was representing the Bar Council in a forum, highlighted the danger of portraying the anti-Bersih Red Shirts’ actions as a response to the Bersih 2.0 movement.
“So I think this whole thing about trying to put them as if they are equal in terms of opposing forces ― I think that is dangerous.
“Because what that means is we are either legitimising violent protests or protests in order to stop other people from protesting, or we are slowly de-legitimising actual peaceful assemblies, expressions of political belief. So this is the danger,” he said in a discussion here on peaceful assembly yesterday evening.
The Bersih 2.0 group is organising the Bersih 5 rally this Saturday with supporters to don the movement’s signature yellow, while the Red Shirts led by Sungai Besar Umno division chief Datuk Seri Jamal Yunos have vowed to stage their own counter-rally and had reportedly acted violently during Bersih 2.0’s month-long nationwide convoy.
Syahredzan said that the nature of a democracy meant that competing interests should be heard and that even the Red Shirts should be allowed to have a rally if it is done peacefully.
“But I think through their conduct, what we have seen over the past one month, I think we can certainly suspect their intentions is not really to have a rally, but to disrupt.
“This is where what I said earlier, if you put them on the same pedestal or same platform, [as] equal on opposing sides, I think that’s not quite correct. Because one is trying to have a peaceful assembly, the other one is actively trying to disrupt and stop a peaceful assembly through threats and sometimes through violence,” he added.
He also highlighted the Bar Council’s stand, where its vice-president George Varughese had called on the police to invoke Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 to give the Red Shirts an alternative time, date or place for the latter’s counter-assembly.
Proham member Dr Lin Mui Kiang, who attended the discussion, said the Red Shirts cannot be considered as having a “counter-rally”, claiming that the latter is seeking to disrupt Bersih 2.0’s rally instead of actually having a rally to promote their own cause.
“Bersih has five objectives but this other group ― their only cause is to destroy Yellow Shirts and instead of having their own rally they are marching into the places where Yellow shirts are going, surrounding their convoys, hitting the windscreens and windows and kicking people,” she said.
She also raised concern over the possibility of Red Shirts supporters donning yellow shirts and being planted as agent provocateurs among Bersih 5 rally participants.
Academic Prof K. S. Nathan, who was also present at the discussion, said the Bersih 5 rally which is intended to be peaceful could well be transformed and engineered to become an unpeaceful and illegal assembly through the actions of agent provocateurs.
Jerald Joseph, a commissioner from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia’s (Suhakam) who was speaking at the discussion, however noted his experience in monitoring Bersih 2.0’s convoy where the police were well-prepared to swiftly take action even on individuals who seek to provoke unrest.
Noting that the participants of the Bersih 4 rally last August managed to stay calm despite an incident involving firecrackers that could have agitated the crowd, Jerald also said: “By and large, if we are using last year as standard gauge, people will resist to react, that’s our best hope.”
Global Bersih steering committee member Ivy Josiah said the Bersih 5 organisers are well-aware of the likelihood of agent provocateurs and physical intimidation, but will be pushing forward with “caution and determination” and adopting peaceful responses.
“We are praying and hoping that Malaysians will follow instructions. When they attack, when they intimidate, when they push and shove, we are not going to push and shove; we are going to respond with peace,” the Bersih 2.0 programmes committee coordinator said at the discussion.
As for Proham volunteer Khoo Ying Hooi, she said no country would be able to stop agent provocateurs from appearing, but said that a peaceful assembly would still be possible if the police who are tasked with protecting citizens are able to manage the situation well.
“I think ideally if the authorities or the enforcement can actually manage the rally impartially on the ground and facilitate the crowd, be it the yellow or red, hopefully we can have an enabling environment to actually have a peaceful assembly,” she said.
The discussion by the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights Malaysia (Proham) yesterday evening is titled “Build Up to Bersih 5: Enabling Environment or Disempowering for Citizens Action”.
Source : IDA LIM@The Malay Mail Online