Suaram calls for thorough review of police procedures in facilitating public assemblies

KUALA LUMPUR: Human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) has called for a thorough review of police procedures in facilitating public assemblies following the arrest of Gegar Amerika protest organiser Harmit Singh near the United States (US) Embassy here yesterday.

Its executive director Sevan Doraisamy said the prohibition of intimidation tactics should be priority and restrictions should be applied based only on necessity, proportionality and legitimacy principles.

"Full sensitisation of police officers via training is crucial in ensuring that policing of public assemblies is done in a human rights-compliant manner," he said today.

Yesterday, Harmit, 28, was arrested after being stopped by police near the embassy and subsequently detained for an hour after allegedly approaching too close to the entrance.

Sevan also described Harmit's arrest as a "deprivation of liberty" that took place even before the demonstration began, adding that the situation had signified the criminalisation of the activist for participating in the demonstration.

He said the police were fully aware of the aim of the demonstration, which was to submit a memorandum to the embassy.

This, he said, was in a notice submitted in line with the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 (PAA) and a facilitation meeting with the police before the demonstration.

"The police's citing of disobedience in Harmit's arrest is highly problematic when their restriction to not go past where their officers were standing is neither necessary nor legitimate.

"There was no basis to presume that the rally would become violent, given full compliance by organisers with peaceful assembly procedures.

"In addition, there was no traffic obstruction or threat to the safety of other civilians due to the small scale of the rally and participants gathering on the same side of the road as the embassy."

Instead of arresting Harmit, he said the police should have facilitated the demonstration and allowed him to peacefully protest alongside other participants.

"This form of criminalisation tramples on laws that safeguard that right, namely Article 10(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution and the PAA.

"It also has a chilling effect on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression overall, which can only deter constructive democratic participation including by Malaysians," he said.

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