Peaceful assembly a legal right

Peaceful intention: A Bersih 3.0 supporter handing out flowers to Federal Reserve Unit members at a barricade near Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, in this file picture. 

The Bersih organisers, the police and DBKL should have met and sorted out the logistics of getting such a huge number of people together in Dataran Merdeka for a couple of hours.

Dr Azmi Sharom, The Star  

WITHIN hours of Bersih 3.0 being over, I received an angry e-mail from a reader asking me in no uncertain terms: “Are you happy now?”

The writer was furious at the scenes of violence, and I suppose I was a convenient and appropriate target for his vitriol.

After all, I have been a consistent supporter of the right to assemble and have gone on record (along with nine other concerned citizens) to demand that the Government allow Bersih 3.0 to go on without harassment at Dataran Merdeka.

Well, to answer the question, of course I am not happy that people, mostly participants, were injured during Bersih 3.0.

However, some perspective is needed here.

If thousands of people set out to cause trouble, the damage and injuries would have been astronomical.

The fact that the number of injured was minuscule only serves to confirm that the vast majority of people went there with peaceful intentions.

The police have been going on about how there would have been no trouble if the organisers had just listened to them and staged a sit-in at a stadium.

This makes them look reasonable to the casual observer.

Why insist on going to Dataran Merdeka when alternatives were offered?

I beg to differ. The issue is not about alternatives; the issue is about the constitutional right of the people to gather in public spaces.

According to our Constitution, and a plethora of international legal documents relating to human rights, the only limitation and consideration that authorities should take into account is with regard to national security and public order.

Traffic jams are not a national security or public order issue.

This being the case, the organisers, the police and DBKL should have got together and sorted out the logistics of getting such a huge number of people together in Dataran Merdeka for a couple of hours.

The duty of the authorities is to facilitate this right, not to offer alternatives based on their own convenience.

The violence on Saturday is unfortunate and regrettable.

It is hoped that all culprits will be brought to book.

I would also hope that if there is to be another Bersih rally in the future, less prominence should be given to political parties.

It is of course within the rights of political parties to take part in Bersih events, especially if they too have been calling for clean and fair elections.

However, in order to minimise the usual accusations that Bersih is a mouthpiece for Pakatan Rakyat, it would be prudent if, in the future, the role of political parties be more one of solidarity, with no need for speech-making and the like.

However, what has almost been forgotten amid the accusations, blaming and finger-pointing, is that the largest ever group of Malaysians rallied together to demand clean and fair elections.

The fact that so many people would take their feelings to the streets surely indicates that there is an important groundswell here.

Our right to choose our leaders must be done in a way that is above suspicion. The question that remains is: “Are those who matter listening?”

Dr Azmi Sharom is a law teacher.