Amnesty International Malaysia: Testing Malaysian Democracy

Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) maintains that Freedom of Assembly, Association and Expression are fundamental strands to democracy and any nation who claims to be democratic must guarantee the exercise of these human rights.

As we draw closer to 9 July 2011, the date set by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) for public assembly calling for electoral reform, AIM hopes the Government and relevant law enforcement authorities would recognise, respect and uphold their duties and obligations to the rakyat. In 2007, 245 people were arrested during the Bersih rally. We hope the nation will not encounter a repetition of such arbitrary mass arrests again.
Article 10 of the Federal Constitution states that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peaceably and without arms, and right to form an associations. Article 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights further upheld the rights to freedom of opinion and expressions, and peaceful assembly and association. These rights should be held paramount by States and laws aims to regulate these freedoms should not result in the banning and restriction of the rights.
Government and enforcement authorities had voiced their disagreements over Perhimpunan Bersih. AIM appeals to them especially the police to create a safe and conducive environment for Malaysians to express their views and to play a leading role in facilitating a peaceful assembly. Force should not be used especially when policing non-violent assembly such as Bersih. Law enforcement officials should differentiate between peaceful and non-peaceful participants. Bersih and its coalitions had repeatedly affirmed its intention to have a peaceful walk. They had also informed their intention to walk to the authorities in a reasonable time and this period should be taken by the authorities to ensure safety of all participants.
Amnesty International’s “10 Basic Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement Officials” state that the use of force should be avoided in dispersing a peaceful/non-violent assembly and we reiterate that law enforcement officials owe a duty to protect the participants of a peaceful assembly. UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials further state that law enforcers may not inflict any act of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, nor invoke superior orders or exceptional circumstances such as national security or political instability as justification of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights globally, Malaysia needs to recognise and respect the democratic and constitutional right of its citizens to assemble in public. The Malaysian government also needs to acknowledge such assemblies as true indicators of public sentiments. Thus we ask that BERSIH is given fair opportunity to voice its causes .
In the struggle for independence which began with the opposition towards the Malayan Union in 1946, Malaysians as one nation participated in peaceful marches to indicate their dissatisfaction of further imposition of colonial rule. Today, Malaysians are calling for indisputable elections, the ultimate validation for a democratic Government. Although not all parties may agree that there is a pressing need for electoral reform within the country, AIM urges the Malaysian government to take a leaf out of Voltaire’s book when he said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
Nora Murat
Executive Director