TESTING MALAYSIAN DEMOCRACY: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION


STATEMENT FROM AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL MALAYSIA
28 June 2011                                                                                                                                                        


Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) maintains that the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, Association, Expression and Opinion are fundamental strands to a democracy. Any nation who claims to be a 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 its public assembly calling for electoral reform, AIM hopes that the Government and the relevant law enforcement authorities will 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 tofreedom of speech and expression, to assemble peaceably and without arms and the right to form associations. Article 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights further upholds the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and peaceful assembly and association. These rights should be held paramount by States and laws aiming to regulate these freedoms should not result in the banning and restriction of rights.

Government and enforcement authorities had voiced their disagreements over Perhimpunan Bersih. AIM appeals to 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 assemblies such as Bersih. Law enforcement officials should differentiate between peaceful and non-peaceful participants. Bersih and its coalitions have repeatedly affirmed its intention to have a peaceful walk. They have also given the authorities notice of their intention to walk within a reasonable time. This period should then be taken by the authorities to ensure the safety of all participants.

Amnesty International’s “10 Basic Human Rights Standards for Law Enforcement Officials” states that the use of force should be avoided in dispersing a peaceful/non-violent assembly. We reiterate that law enforcement officials owe a duty to protect the participants of a peaceful assembly.  UN’s Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials further states 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 for 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

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