Peaceful Assembly Act should be repealed: NGO

Teo (centre) and other members of the ROSE addressing a press conference regarding the cancellation of their highly anticipated forum.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, March 16: Rise of Sarawak Efforts (ROSE) is calling for the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012 to be repealed following the cancellation of its “Youth and Employment in Sarawak: Opportunity or Challenge” forum scheduled tonight, due to failure to obtain ‘police permit’.

Its chairperson Ann Teo expressed disappointment that the forum had to be called off, as they were of the impression that a police permit for the forum was not necessary considering that the venue was indoors and in a shopping mall, which should not be categorised as a “public place”.

“We have to pay rental for the use of the space for our event. If a mall is defined as a ‘public place’, then all other events such as colouring and singing contests or karaoke session among few friends at private space will also be caught under the PAA,” she told a press conference at the Summer Mall in Kota Samarahan here.

“This is curbing the constitutional rights of citizens, especially non-governmental organisations (NGO) like us who play an important role in society, to freedom of assembly and expression for the common good,” she added.

She pointed out that the definitions of “public place” as provided under PAA 2012 means (a) a road; (b) a place open to or used by the public as of right; or (c) a place for the time being open to or used by the public, whether or not – (i) the place is ordinarily open to or used by the public; (ii) by the express or implied consent of the owner or occupier; or (iii) on payment of money.

“The intepretations given are very broad, giving authority that it can be applied selectively,” she said.

Teo questioned if organisers of various public events held in a mall from now on would also be required to apply for a police permit.

Under PAA 2012, there is no requirement to obtain a police permit, unlike Section 27 of the Police Act, which has been repealed and replaced with the PAA, she said.

Previously, under Section 27 of the Police Act, the organiser of an assembly must first obtain a permit from the police district before holding an assembly. If an assembly is held without a permit, it is deemed an unlawful and anyone attending or participates in the assembly would commit an offence.

Instead, there is Section 9 (1) of the PAA 2012, in which organiser of an assembly must give notice to the officer-in-charge of a police district at least 10 days before the assembly, she said.

“So we want to call for the PAA to be repealed to enable the people’s constitutional rights to be recognised including rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association. All these are fundamental to human rights that cannot be separated,” she added.

More importantly, Teo emphasised that the objective of the forum was to enable free and open discourse on issues affecting Sarawakians as it will contribute towards sharing of valuable information, engagement between public especially the youth and policy makers and experts.

She said that both the panelists namely Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) Information chief Dato Idris Buang and Malaysia Trade Union Congress (MTUC) secretary Andrew Lo have expressed their disappointment over the cancellation, as they had looked forward to this event.

The forum will provide them the opportunity to interact with the people especially the youth, but unfortunately it did not happen due to the interpretation of “public space” in the PAA, she added.

Teo however assured that a new forum date and venue will be announced in due course.

The forum was to feature Idris and Lo discussing and sharing their views on the challenges and issues plaguing youths and job-seekers in Sarawak and what needed to be done by the respective parties and stakeholders to address them. — DayakDaily