Legal action against Bersih sparks renewed scrutiny of new assembly law

By Shannon Teoh
The Malaysian Insider
May 24, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 — The use of the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) to claim damages from organisers of the April 28 Bersih rally has sparked condemnation from opposition politicians who are now claiming that the new law restricts the right to gather even more than previous legislation.

Yesterday, 10 Bersih leaders, including Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, became the first persons to be sued in a civil action under the PAA, introduced just days before the April 28 demonstration for free and fair elections.

The government is claiming RM122,000 for alleged damage to 15 government-owned vehicles.

This followed Tuesday’s charges levelled against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Azmin Ali of participating in an unlawful assembly, the first criminal charges under the same law which Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said would allow freedom of assembly “in accordance with international norms.”

Lawmakers from Pakatan Rakyat (PR) told The Malaysian Insider today the law is being used “in a demonisation campaign and shows the prime minister is no reformist but reactionary.”

“The move (to sue) is headed in the wrong direction from the reforms Najib promised,” DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang said.

“What about all those who were assaulted far away from Dataran Merdeka? Should they be queuing up to sue the government?” he asked, referring to dozens of protestors claiming they were attacked by groups of policemen after violence erupted at the rally.

PAS vice-president Salahuddin Ayub also said this was what “we anticipated when the Bill was tabled in Parliament last year, that it would be more draconian and repressive.”

“The spirit of section 27 of the Police Act lives on,” the Kubang Kerian MP said, referring to the provision that required police permits for public gatherings that was repealed when the PAA came into force.

The federal opposition had staged a walkout last November when the Bill was debated in Parliament after criticising the law, which bars street protests, as being more repressive than those in countries like Myanmar, which has one of the world’s poorest human rights records.

PKR de facto leader Anwar, deputy president Azmin and Rembau chief Badrul Hisham Shaharin were charged on Tuesday with taking part in the April 28 Bersih 3.0 rally under section 4(2)(c) of the PAA.

Yesterday, the government sued Bersih under section 6(2)(g) of the law which states that organisers must “ensure that the assembly will not endanger health or cause damage to property or the environment.”

Putrajaya is asking for compensation for 15 vehicles, mostly belonging to the police, that had to be repaired at a cost of RM122,000 and a declaration that Bersih breached section 6(2)(g).

PKR vice-president Chua Tian Chang said the suit “flew in the face of the justice and legal system” as the 10 Bersih leaders were being blamed for acts by other individuals which had nothing to do with them.

“So what the government is saying, if you organise an event, it has to be limited to your own club members. If anyone joins and damages property, you are at fault even if there is no line of responsibility.

“This basically means no public protests. Only private ones where you must register first,” the Batu MP said.

The April 28 rally that saw tens of thousands gather at six different locations before heading to Dataran Merdeka was peaceful until about 2.30pm when Ambiga asked the crowd to disperse.

But her announcement was not heard by most of the crowd who persisted to linger around the historic square which the court had already barred to the public over the weekend.

Just before 3pm, some protestors breached the barricade surrounding the landmark, leading police to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons.

Police then continued to pursue rally-goers down several streets amid chaotic scenes which saw violence from both sides over the next four hours.

Several dozen demonstrators have claimed that they were assaulted by groups of over 10 policemen at a time and visual evidence appears to back their claim but police also point to violence from rally-goers who also attacked a police car.

The police car then crashed into a building before some protestors flipped it on its side

  1. #1 by vsp on Thursday, 24 May 2012 - 11:15 pm

    Let’s turn the table against the government. Can the Bersih committee organize a fund-raising campaign for the purpose of taking a class-action civil suit against the government for RM100 billion for the provocations and actual brutality committed against the people of Malaysia?

  2. #2 by bush on Friday, 25 May 2012 - 9:36 am

    I think the Rakyat also can take legal action against the Go..Ver for mis-managed of fund if they want bersih accountable for damages:-

    1. PKFZ RM12bill

    2. Submarine commission RM500mil

    3. Sime Darby RM964mil

    4. Paya Indah Westland RM88mil

    5. Posmalaysia (transmile) RM230mil lost

    6. Eurocopter deal RM1bil wasted?

    7. Terengganu Stadium Collapsed RM292mil

    8. MRR2 repair cost RM70mil

    9. Maybank Overpaid BII RM4bil

    10. NFC 250 mil A pole platform that cost RM990 was bought for RM30,000

    11. A thumb drive that cost RM90 was bought for RM480

    12. A cabinet that cost RM1,500 was bought for RM13,500

    13. A flashlight that cost RM35 was bought for RM143

    14. Expenses for 1 Malaysia campaign paid to APCO?

    15. RM17 billion subsidy to IPP

    16. more…etc

You must be logged in to post a comment.