“..one of the features of a vigorous and healthy democracy is that people are allowed to go out onto the streets and demonstrate. Thousands of demonstrations take place each year in London. Experience has shown that for the most part gatherings of this kind are peaceful. The police, on whom the responsibility of maintaining public order rests, seek to facilitate rather than impede their activities.”

– Lord Hope of Craighead, in the opening words of his leading judgment in the case of Austin v Metropolitan Police Commissioner [2009] 1 AC 564

In the Austin case, the House of Lords rejected a claim by a demonstrator (at an anti globalisation protest in 2001) for damages against the police for wrongful imprisonment because the police had cordoned off the site of the protest and refused to allow people to leave. But the reason why the claim was rejected is instructive, and shows how a democracy ought to balance the rights to assemble of individuals with society’s need to maintain public order.

England’s highest court there recognised that “crowd control measures resorted to for public order and public safety reasons had to take account of the rights of the individual and the interests of the community” and should not be “arbitrary” in that “they were resorted to in good faith, were proportionate and were enforced for no longer than was reasonably necessary”. The House of Lords found in the Austin case that

“the police had been engaged in an unusually difficult exercise in crowd control which had as its aim the avoidance of personal injuries and damage to property and the dispersal as quickly as possible of a crowd bent on violence and impeding the police, and since the fact that the achievement of that aim had taken much longer than the police had expected was due to circumstances beyond their control, the police had acted reasonably and proportionately to prevent serious public disorder and violence; and that, accordingly, the restriction on the first claimant’s liberty which had resulted from being confined within the police cordon did not constitute an arbitrary deprivation of liberty”.

[Quoting from the headnote of the report]

Contrast this with the situation in Malaysia and the anti ISA protest held on Saturday, 1st August 2009.

Here, it seems that it is the task of the police to impede rather than facilitate the free expression of views. The police in Malaysia are quite clearly intent on acting as a tool of repression on behalf of the ruling government, ensuring that no dissenting voices are allowed to be heard. Even if there is no violence, nor any threat of violence, the police will violently disperse the assembly with tear gas, chemically laced water cannon and an outrageous and oppressive show of force.

See the Al Jazeera report:

(Lawyer Puspawati Rosman is seen in the clip getting arrested for distributing the Bar Council’s Red Book pamphlet, giving advice to people on their rights when dealing with the police.)

And read the report from the monitoring team of lawyers from the Bar Council’s Human Rights Committee / Legal Aid Centre.

The police closed down Kuala Lumpur on 1st August 2009 – the jam on the Federal Highway went on for at least 5 kilometres in the blazin hot sun. Many who wanted to go shopping at the PC Fair could not make it. A client of mine had to meet an important client of his from overseas to pass a completed project – he was unable to do so.

How stupid does the Government, and the police, think we are? Have they not learnt from the drubbing they got on March 8, 2008 in the aftermath of the BERSIH and HINDRAF rallies?

All the people I spoke to, whose lives were disrupted by the jams, did not blame the protestors. All of them lay the blame squarely on the police. It was a gross over reaction: “If they want to protest, just let them protest lah.”

A good protest disrupts one’s day to day life sufficiently so people look up, take interest and see what the protest is all about. In the end, the police actually helped the protestors achieve this! No one would have paid any attention to the protests, and why it happened, if not for the police over-reaction. Al Jazeera would not have reported it, nor would Thomas Fuller of the New York Times have written about it.

When they learnt what the protest was about, most Malaysians said: “Well of course the ISA is unjust. It was for the communists, but now where got communists any more? If someone is a terrorist, charge him in Court lah!”

So GMI should probably thank the police: the march would never have got this kind of publicity if we had a proper police force cognizant of their role in a democracy.

Shanmuga K sometimes sees a purple banana emerging in his sub-conscious. An article seems to then be magically written. He is @shanmuga_k on Twitter. When he does not see those purple bananas, he practices...

10 replies on “GMI should thank police”

  1. Mode of transport ie Trishaws and Bicycles, is different from Expressions of Principles and Passion. So it's idiotic to even compare.

    Sensible or not, it works, because NOTHING else has. Why dont YOU suggest a way of convincing the government to pay heed to our views instead of just slamming the rally and condemning the participants? A way that WILL WORK… because as far as I am concerned, this right to peaceful assembly is enshrined not just in our Federal Constitution but it is inherent in every human being to exercise such Freedom.

    Without such rallies you would not be enjoying the freedom to associate and express as you are having right now as an individual. You wouldnt even be on the internet, reading articles from LoyarBurok.com.

    Think about it.

  2. Why don't they just arrest all opposition party members, thus what is left is single government backed party. No opposition, no need to defend themselves regarding bullshit figures on Malay Equity, on ISA, on blablabla… everything can then be sweep under the bed… Oh right this isn't Communist Country… wait isn't ISA is suppose to fight against Communism?

  3. Hi,

    No one said STREET PROTEST is wrong. It’s only OUTDATED, that’s all.

    For goodness sake, street protest might be the way in the past but we’re in the new millenium now. REFORM message ought to be carried out in a more sensible way. Participants of STREET PROTESTS today can only be regarded as “BARBARIANS LIVING IN THE SIXTIES”. Can’t they figure a NEW AGE approach to send a memorandum to the palace instead of being STREET BARBARIANS causing unnecessary traffic chaos to others???

    TRISHAWS & BICYCLES may be the main mode of transport in the past but will one consider these appropriate in today’s modern world???

    It’s really SAD to know most Malaysians are still living in the RETRO SIXTIES/SEVENTIES. I wonder when will they ever wake-up to face reality??? or is that they will NEVER wake-up???

  4. Before the police can 'sedar diri', we ought to pray for the idiot PM of ours to recognise that his words are recognised by the rakyat to be like 'running water'…..unless he 'sedar diri' no use hoping for his goons to do so….

  5. bob,

    hisham will probably take you up on your offer to "shut down the whole Kl in your grandfather name"!

  6. Ya ya they are blaming the protesters for causing '$200 millions' losses last Sat.

    Come on, I was caught in the jam crawling round and round in town and couldnt get out of KL after work. Electronic signboard saying 'Ikut Arahan Polis' but apparently officers just stood there chatting, blocking road, laughing!!! What police instruction???!!!!

    Police dept causing massive jam on 1 August 2009 and not demo.

    Pls make it clear and knock some silly sense out of Hisham's kotak.

    Road closure becoming a norm to flame public sentiment.

    Police day rehearsal – road closure during peak

    Merdeka day rehearsal – road closure during peak

    Agong birthday rehearsal – road closure during peak

    De tour de langkawi – road closure during peak

    DBKL day – road closure

    My ass, why dont close down the whole KL in your grandfather name.

  7. i am fed-up of everyone antagonising the entire rally by saying "the PROTESTORS caused the jam!" or "the PROTESTORS have threatened national security!" or the dumbest (most pathetic one) i've heard so far by the Rembau fella, "the fact is that those who attended were mostly from the opposition as the public does not support such illegal activities"

    Eh Hello…EVEN IF the crowd were mostly oppositionist… ARE THEY NOT PART OF THE PUBLIC?

    what is with the undertones of "US v. THEM"?

    this was not a political party campaign. this was a peaceful participatory expression of dissent. The POLICE and the Powers that BE caused such obstruction.

    Alangkah baiknya kalau pihak Polis boleh SEDAR diri and keluar daripada cengkaman zalim pihak Berkuasa. Sedar diri, oh sedar diri!!!!!!!!

  8. Check out this piece too:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB12491227654899901… (Malaysian Protesters clash with riot police)

    See the title? it's "riot" police not the people!!

    And this piece from Sim Kwang Yang:
    http://hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com/2009/08/02… (Absolutely NO to ISA…on a lazy Malaysian Sunday)

    "They still do not get it. The government cannot be trusted to take care of everything; the people must be allowed room in public space on the streets of KL to express their extreme contempt for this law in peaceful manners. This is called people exercising their democratic rights to free assembly and free expression."

    Also this piece from Yeo Yang Poh:

    English version: http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=36441 (Why do Malaysians march?)

    Chinese version: http://merdekareview.com/news/n/10414.html (??????)

    Last but not least, yeah "thanks" to the police, allowing us to witness with our own eyes as of how brutal & bully they were!!

  9. The RAKYAT protested but BN called it RIOT…There were many RAKYAT but they did not riot. The RIOT Polices are the culprit who had rioted against the wishes of the RAKYAT.

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