Despite the introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Act 2012, police have yet to change their mindset in their handling of public assemblies, a human rights commissioner said.
Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) deputy chairperson Professor Datuk Khaw Lake Tee said she has been involved in nine public inquiries held on assemblies since 2000 at which the same recommendations were made but the police continued to violate human rights.
"What is the whole point of conducting a public inquiry if the police are going to ignore our recommendations and continue their infringement of human rights?" Khaw told a forum, "Time to Reform the Police Force", at the Selangor-Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur last night.
She said although not a lot of money was spent conducting these public inquiries, they took up a lot of time and resources.
Khaw said the police were often less than cooperative during these public inquiries, pretending that they could not identify the personnel who had been on duty during the public assembly.
She said prior to Bersih 3.0 in April 2012, all previous public assemblies were governed under Section 27 of the Police Act.
"Anyone who wanted to organise a rally had to apply for a permit from the police and this was more often than not rejected.
"If the rally went ahead without the permit, then the police took the opportunity to act accordingly," she said.
Under the Peaceful Assembly Act, the police have to be informed of any planned rally or gathering 10 days in advance to facilitate the event.
"The police need to be informed about the rally or gathering 10 days in advance to assist the organiser, not because a permit or approval is required."
Khaw said if the organiser failed to inform the police 10 days in advance, then action could be taken against the organiser.
"However, action cannot be taken against those who participate in the rally, regardless of whether it is legal or illegal," she said.
"The police should understand this point, irrespective of whether a rally is legal or illegal, it is not an excuse for police to commit acts which infringe on human rights.
"The legality of a gathering is a non-issue, one cannot commit human rights infringement," Khaw said.
Despite the change of laws following the introduction of the Peaceful Assembly Act, police appear to be taking time to get used to the shift in mindset.
"Having said that, it does not mean that rally participants can do anything that they like," Khaw added.
She said whenever police gave their statements at the public inquiries, they liked to refer to the rally participants as "perusuh" (rioters).
"I always tell them that rally participants are 'peserta' and not rioters. They must understand that freedom of assembly is an extension of freedom of expression," Khaw said.
"There is a thinking among the police that any assembly or gathering is a challenge to their authority," she said.
Khaw added that minorities also had a right to make their unhappiness heard as everyone had a right to freedom of expression.