Peaceful Asembly Act protects rights of all

FMT LETTER: From Thomas Samuel, via e-mail

We are all aware that excess is more often not a choice in dealing with creating unity and providing a fair platform for communities to live, work and stay together in a multi-racial country like ours. This is essentially the spirit in which the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 was presented and gazetted in parliament on Feb 9, 2012.

If we care to read the Act which is available on the internet, you will come to realise that it has more benefits than otherwise. It is an Act that tries to protect the interest of all Malaysians and at the same time provide them a legal avenue to assemble and voice their opinion and/or objection on any matter of interest that they believe in.

It is a fair and responsible Act that in no way deprives anybody of their ‘rights’. Anybody intending to assemble in public and voice their objection or opinion can do so subject to restrictions deemed necessary in the interest of security or public order, including the protection of the rights and freedoms of other persons.

Why many of us fail to see the rational on the refusal by the authorities to approve certain assemblies is simply because we are blinded to the rights and freedoms of others who are NOT involved in that particular assembly. The taxi driver, the restaurant owners, the family which is out for a peaceful traffic free shopping, motorist who will be affected by traffic jams and many others who will in one way or another be affected by these assemblies. The authorities have to do a holistic evaluation and ensure minimum disruption to the rights and freedoms of those not involved in the assemblies as well. This is where the conflict occurs!

It is impossible to have an assembly with no disruption to the normal pace of life at any chosen venue. An enclosed or private area like a stadium will be ideal to minimise the disruption to others. Such places also provide the authorities better management of security and safety of the participants. In essence, the Act encourages healthy participation and is also concerned about the safety of the participant’s as well non participants.

Why some organisers’ insist on having the assemblies at common, high traffic open areas baffles me! Open areas are surely not safe and the chances of chaos and violence are higher at such venues. If the sole intention of the organiser is to put forth their objections or views and show the support they have, then a much safer environment may achieve the same results with reduced possibility of things going wrong. So what is the intention of organisers’ who insist of having gatherings in open areas or public roads?

The Act also prohibits children below the age of 15 to participate at such gatherings. However, it is so common to see parents bringing their children below the age of 15 for such events. The Act is there to protect the children but the organisers’ are not bothered to enforce these rules. If things go out of hand and the children become victims, fingers will squarely be pointed to the authorities. Again, what is the intention of the organisers’ in closing a blind eye to the Act by allowing children to be part of these gatherings?

One of the articles in the Act reads, “The officer in charge of the police district shall take into account all the concerns and objections received for the purpose of imposing restrictions and conditions of any assembly. And inform the organisers of any restrictions and conditions for a peaceful assembly within five days of receipt of the same.” Again we see that the spirit of the Act is to encourage peaceful assembly with concerns of all taken into account.

To ensure the rights and freedoms of all involved and affected by the assembly, the authorities may have to provide additional guidelines and conditions that may not be acceptable to the organiser. What the organisers’ fail to understand is that these guidelines and conditions are put in place to manage everybody’s expectations. The organisers’ have to realise that there are as many people who support their cause as there are those who oppose them. The authorities have to maintain a balance so nobody feels discriminated.

When organisers’ of such gatherings protest the additional conditions imposed, it just goes to show that they are inconsiderate to other peoples’ views. What does this say of such organisers?

Malaysia is a peaceful country and we surely wish it to be the same or better for our children and the generations to come. We should embrace the spirit of the Act and create less animosity and anger among Malaysians. Moderation, respect and compromise are key elements to ensure we continue to enjoy the peace and unity of our beloved country. Let not some idealistic leader or leaders who are self-centred destroy the unity of this country.