The police have to "change their mindset" when enforcing the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA), and to respect the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
Speaking at a forum on police reform last night, Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) deputy chairperson Khaw Lake Tee said the police appear to have the impression that public protests are an attempt to challenge their authority.
“A lot of things are needed to change the thinking of the police. When a peaceful assembly turns into a riot, you (police) should facilitate to ensure public safety,” she said.
“But if the participants refuse to obey your instructions, there are provisions for you to take action - the right of the police to enforce the law is not denied. But you can't straight away take action just because they are there.
“This is how the police actually think - an assembly is a challenge to their authority and you (rally-goers) are destructing trade and business and chasing away the tourists.”
The PAA was included in the government's reform package introduced in premier Najib Abdul Razak’s Malaysia Day speech in 2011. This also involved the repeal of draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act 1960 and Emergency-era laws.
Najib pledged to make legal provision for peaceful assembly but critics have pointed out that the PAA is flawed in many respects.
One such provision is for assembly organisers to notify the police 10 days ahead of an event.
Khaw remarked that the police have interpreted this wrongly.
“Under the Act, one must notify the police 10 days before the event. Nothing in the Act says that police can decide on (issuing a) permit,” she explained.
“Giving notice to the police is for them to facilitate the assembly, like controlling traffic and maintaining public order. That is the objective of giving notification.”
Another speaker, MyWatch chief R Sanjeevan, said leaked police data for January and February have shown alarming crime data.
He claimed there were 67 murder cases and 6,146 motorcycle thefts over this period alone.
"That equates to one murder a day," he claimed.
However, quizzed by reporters after the forum, he was unable to provide comparative data from last year to back his assertion.