Public assembly arrests, probes decrease in 2023 - Suaram

27 Mar 2024 03:39pm
Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy
Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy

KUALA LUMPUR – There was a notable decrease in the number of investigations and arrests related to public assemblies last year, with only 91 probes recorded compared to double the figure in 2022.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) when sharing this said the decline suggested an improved acknowledgment of the constitutional right to gather peacefully.

Nevertheless, the human rights watchdog revealed that the police have asked organisers to seek consent from Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) prior to holding assemblies in public spaces within Kuala Lumpur, including Dataran Merdeka.

"It is a property of the public. City Hall is merely a guardian of the public space,” Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said during a press conference after its 2023 Human Rights Report launch here, today.

He further said that assemblies conducted in public spaces do not require consent.

The report proposed amending the Peaceful Assemblies Act 2012 to mandate consent solely from private space owners and to officially designate Dataran Merdeka and Parliament as recognised assembly locations.

Sevan pointed out a distinct double standard concerning gatherings aligned with the government's position versus those entirely independent of it.

"There is a clear double standard," he said.

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According to the Suaram report, three public assemblies from last year until the current report's launch were probed under the Peaceful Assemblies Act 2012 and Section 14 of the Minor Offences Act 1955 for insulting behaviour.

Commenting further, Sevan stressed the pressing need for more engagement with Home Ministry to reform initiatives endorsed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, ensuring that the values he promoted through 'Madani' principles were integrated into policymaking.

Furthermore, Sevan advocated for amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 to grant students a voice without fear of suppression, and for the bolstering of the Independent Police Conduct Commission (IPCC).

Expressing a sense of urgency, Sevan noted that while reforms naturally take time, there is no necessity to wait decades.

"We recognise that reforms need time, but we need not wait for over 60 years.

"The change in government finally took place in 2018.

“For the reform that was envisioned in 1998, to remain true to its course, the government must practise its reformist mindset," he reasoned.