Permit Nation

The message is loud and clear: your liberties and freedoms are subject to our approval. If you transgress, your freedom is forfeited. Period.

Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, The Malaysian Insider

The suspension of Harakah and Suara Keadilan proves once again BN’s intolerance to dissent. In BN’s definition of democracy the right to dissent is considered a political crime. If democracy endorses your right not to sing the same song, BN’s democracy means you can only sing one song — one which praises BN forever.

BN knows very well a dynamic and vigorous democracy is a threat to its survival.

Thus it is not surprising to notice that even though the Federal Constitution enshrines fundamental rights such as the right to assemble, to speak and to association, there are ordinary Acts of Parliament curtailing those rights.

Assemblies are shackled by the Police Act 1967. The freedom of speech silenced by the Printing and Publication Act. The inclination to associate curbed by the Societies Act.

The common thread of the three statures is that they limit people’s rights through the mechanism of permits. To assemble, a police permit is needed. To publish a newspaper, the Home Minister has to grant you a permit. To form a society you have to appease the Registrar of Society.

These mechanisms enable BN to closely supervise and control the activities of the people.

A permit serves as radar for BN.

The message is loud and clear: your liberties and freedoms are subject to our approval. If you transgress, your freedom is forfeited. Period.

No doubt the permit system has placed tremendous constraints on people particularly the opposition parties. It is also a blatant abuse of power.

Take for example the right to assemble peacefully in any part of the country. You can only exercise such a fundamental right if you obtain a permit from the Officer In Charge of Police District (OCPD ).  The Malaysians are at the OCPD’s mercy whenever they want to assemble. Just because you are given a permit to assemble does not mean you can conveniently assemble without any impediments. The permit may be withdrawn at the eleventh hour by the same OCPD and the best part of it he does not have to give any reasons for such a withdrawal. Even if the permit is given, the OCPD may also impose certain unreasonable conditions. Failure to comply with the conditions will expose the permit holder to criminal sanctions.

Hitherto the government has failed to honour its promise to revise the Police Act despite being recommended to do so by the 16-member Special Commission to Enhance Police Operations and Management headed by the former Chief Justice, Tun Dzaiddin Abdullah.

On April 30, 2005 , the Commission sent its recommendations to the government. When dealing with section 27 of the Police Act 1967, the Commission categorically stated that “it is a bad law”.

The commission further said that the police does not seem to tolerate assemblies and processions organised by parties and movements associated with the opposition political parties. The same commission also lamented that section 27A, 27B, 27C of the Police Act have jeopardised the right to freedom of speech and assembly which is the hallmark of democracy.

By allowing the police to disturb any assembly held in private venues, the commission stated that the last vestiges of freedom of assembly and speech are eliminated.

It is submitted that the permit system has also created a bully culture. The recent suspension of Harakah and Suara Keadilan is the case in point. The printing and publication Act gives a vast power for the Minister to bully the permit holders.

Every newspaper needs to get an annually renewable permit. Since the law does not recognise an automatic renewal, a permit holder needs to apply for a permit annually. The Minister has the power not to renew the permit and in doing so he is not bound to assign any reasons. His decision not to renew cannot be challenged in any court of law as he is protected by an ouster clause in the Act. Even when he agrees to issue a permit, he is empowered to impose any conditions as he did to Harakah .

You tell me what kind of democracy we have when Harakah’s permit has been conditioned with these terms . One, Harakah cannot be sold to a public. Second, Harakah cannot be published more than twice per week. Third, Harakah cannot publish anything except news relating to PAS.

Of course such conditions not only undemocratic but also torments of the highest order.

The latest episode depicts that Najib has totally redefined the term democracy as “government of BN, by BN to BN”.

Mohamed Hanipa Maidin sits on the Pas central committee and is the Pas legal adviser. He is also a lawyer who blogs at