Home Civil Society Voices Police ‘advice’ to cancel forum in Sarawak irks NGO

Police ‘advice’ to cancel forum in Sarawak irks NGO

The event above had to be called off

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Rise of Sarawak Efforts (Rose) calls for the Peaceful Assembly Act to be repealed to enable the people’s constitutional rights to be recognised.

As organiser of the Chat with Rose on Youth and Employment in Sarawak: Opportunities or Challenge (the first in a series of forums), scheduled for 16 March 2019 at the Summer Mall, Samarahan, we are deeply disappointed and regret to inform the public that we had to call off the forum that night. It has been postponed to a date to be announced.

Late in the morning on 16 March, a police officer contacted Rose on behalf of the district police chief, saying that we had not written to the police to obtain a “permit” under the Peaceful Assembly Act to hold the event at the mall. He advised us to cancel it, adding that he would file a report if the event went ahead. Why were we told only at the last minute when had already published news of our event more than a week ago?

The objective of our event was to enable free and open discourse on issues that affect Sarawakians. The forum that night was supposed to be a discussion on youths and the state of jobs and employment in Sarawak. We believe that this forum would have contributed towards the sharing of valuable information and provided an avenue for engagement between the public, in particular young people, and policy-makers and experts.

Both the panel members – Idris Buang, the Sarawak State Assembly member for Muara Tuang (who is also PBB information chief), and Andrew Lo, the secretary of the Sarawak division of the Malaysian Trades Union Congress – had no issues with our objectives. That is why they agreed to come. One of them also expressed disappointment that the event did not proceed.

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We felt a notice under the Peaceful Assembly Act was not necessary as a mall is not a public place. Thus we did not write in to the police. The mall management had also given us permission to hold the forum at its designated space. In fact, they welcome us to do so.

If a mall is defined as a “public place” under the act, all other events such as a colouring competition, a children’s singing competition (like what this mall had held a few hours earlier) or a karaoke session involving a few friends – all happening within private spaces – would be prohibited, including this press conference.

Such interpretation curbs the constitutional rights of citizens to freedom of expression, assembly and association which are part of our basic human rights. As an non-governmental organisation, we were merely intending to open up space for discourse on important issues and encouraging participation for the common good.

With deep regret, we had to announce the cancellation of the event for now as it was stalled due to the very wide and broad phrasing of the clauses in the Peaceful Assembly Act, in particular the definition of “public places”. This means that the requirement in the Act can be applied selectively.

We also wonder, do organisers of other events of the types mentioned above now all have to write to the area police concerned for almost all their events?

Rose thus calls for the Peaceful Assembly Act to be repealed to enable the people’s constitutional rights to be recognised.

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