We, the 19 undersigned groups and organisations, are appalled by the police actions preventing about 500 lawyers of the Malaysian Bar from exercising their right to peaceful assembly in the “Walk for Judicial independence” on 17 June.
The lawyers had gathered at the Padang Merbok car park to walk to Parliament, about a kilometre away, to hand over a memorandum to the prime minister but were wrongly prevented from doing so.
This was despite the fact that a representative of the prime minister had apparently made arrangements for the receipt of the protest note in Parliament. Later, Deputy Law Minister Mas Ermieyati Samsudin, on behalf of the prime minister, had to go to the meeting point to accept the memorandum from the Bar president.
It was reported that police personnel formed a human chain to disallow some lawyers from attempting to leave the area… A police light strike force unit was also called in to provide further security after several lawyers attempted to leave the area but were denied.
Police harassment continuing
It is a wrong misconception that the police are the ‘permission giver’ before one can freely exercise one’s right to peaceful assembly. The task of the police is to facilitate and not frustrate the exercise of that right is a position taken by the courts and the Bar.
The harassment of the Malaysian Bar and the lawyers continues when the office in charge of the Dang Wangi Police ACP Noor Dellhan Yahaya said on 17 June the police would call up all participants of the Walk for Judicial independence march by the Malaysian Bar to give their statements, despite blocking the walk from occurring.
Noor Dellhan confirmed the matter when contacted on 18 June. “They will be called to give their statements next week. All participants that were present will be called,” he said. [Star, 18/6/2022]”
Such conduct by the state and state agents is contrary to justice and human rights and may deter the future exercise of the people’s right to peaceful assembly in Malaysia.
Malaysian Bar’s right denied despite following the law
The Malaysian Bar sent the required notification to the police on 7 June, more than five days before the intended march. According to the law, within three days from the receipt of notification, the police must inform the organiser of any restrictions or conditions, and there was none in this case within the stipulated time.
On about 16 June, a day before the intended march, the police suddenly ‘denied permission’ for the lawyers to march to Parliament and allowed them to just assemble at the meeting point in Padang Merbok. It would have been most frustrating for the hundreds of lawyer, some of whom travelled hundreds of kilometres to march to Parliament to find themselves confined to a car park far away from the public eye.
The Bar rightfully took the position, in accordance with the law, that “the assembly shall proceed as proposed in the notification” – the lawyers would gather and march to Parliament.
Section 14(1) of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 states:
The Officer in Charge of the Police District shall respond to the notification under subsection 9(1) within three days of the receipt of the notification and shall, in the response, inform the organizer of the restrictions and conditions imposed under section 15, if any…
Section 14(2) clearly says:
If the Officer in Charge of the Police District does not respond to the notification in accordance with subsection (1), the assembly shall proceed as proposed in the notification.
Therefore, it is clear that the police had violated the law and the right to peaceful assembly of the lawyers when they prevented the Bar from marching to Parliament on 17 June.
Judges are not above the law
The march to Parliament was pursuant to a resolution adopted at the Malaysian Bar’s extraordinary general meeting held on 27 May.
The Malaysian Bar, while taking the position that superior court judges “are not above the law and must be made accountable for crimes they commit, and that law enforcement agencies must be allowed to carry out their respective tasks in accordance with the law and the Federal Constitution”, but [it also believes that] how such investigations are carried out matters.
The Bar, for example, condemned “the unprecedented manner in which the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has publicly announced the commencement of criminal investigation of a Superior Court Judge, and disclosed the name of the judge to the public, for an indefinite period and without proper closure, which is tantamount to an act of intimidation against the Judiciary….”
Therefore, we call for:
- The immediate end of harassment of the Malaysian Bar and lawyers by the police. Police must discontinue plans to call for an investigation of all organisers and participants of the Walk for Judicial independence
- The relevant police officers, the inspector general of police, the minister in charge and/or the government to tender an immediate public apology to the Malaysian Bar and lawyers for their actions or omissions that frustrated the exercise of the lawyers’ right of peaceful assembly
- Malaysia to defend and promote the right of peaceful assembly, which must also include human rights education to the police and other law enforcement bodies
Charles Hector and Adrian Pereira
- On behalf of the following 19 groups:
- Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet)
- North South Initiative
- Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific Region
- Black Women for Wages for Housework
- Centre for Human Rights Research & Advocacy (Centhra)
- Citizens Action Group on Enforced Disappearance (Caged)
- Community Resource Centre, Thailand
- Haiti Action Committee
- Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia (Namm)
- Ohmsi Sdn Bhd
- Payday Men’s Network, UK/US
- Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor
- Sisters in Islam
- Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy
- The William Gomes Podcast, UK
- Workers Hub For Change (W4HC)
- Women of Color/Global Women’s Strike