THE Malaysian Bar denounces the government’s overzealous and abusive show of power in its apparent determination to crush the people’s exercise of its right to the twin freedoms of assembly and expression during the rallies in Kuala Lumpur on 1 Aug 2009.
According to media and eyewitness accounts, police used excessive and disproportionate physical force, including wantonly arresting hundreds of individuals and recklessly using tear gas and water cannons on participants who were gathered in a peaceful and disciplined manner.
Despite the government’s stern warnings about the rallies, and its track record of heavy-handed repression in other peaceful gatherings recently, members of the public turned up in full force to exercise their fundamental liberties to peaceful assembly and to express their viewpoints. The government’s staunch and unwavering rebuff of these freedoms is a complete denial not only of constitutionally protected rights, but also of the clear wishes of the people.
The Malaysian Bar is disappointed that the government has not seen fit to embrace the public’s increased expression of viewpoints as a positive development in our society, and to accord it the necessary democratic space to flourish. Instead, this new government appears determined to continue stifling public opinion, persecuting and punishing those who dare to speak out, while blaming them for creating unrest and disorder.
Equally deplorable is the treatment of those arrested. Juveniles who were detained were placed in a cell with adult detainees, which is in violation of child rights and procedures for handling juvenile detainees. Some detainees were remanded for four days, including a juvenile, which is unreasonably long.
The Malaysian Bar strongly urges the immediate and unconditional release of all those who are still being detained, and calls on the government to exercise restraint and demonstrate its commitment to democratic processes by not pursuing charges against any of the participants. We also urge the government to immediately heed the calls for reform and to respect the rule of law and fundamental rights, including the right of all concerned individuals to assemble peacefully to express their opinions.