KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — The High Court today pointed out that the police are legally-bound to ensure the Red Shirts movement holds its counter-rally at a different location to prevent clashes with Bersih 2.0 supporters this Saturday.
Justice Nanthan Balan in reading out his ruling rejecting an application for an injunction to prevent Bersih 5 and a counter-rally from taking place in the capital city said Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act stated that the police must redirect any counter-rallies if they knew that clashes were imminent.
“Section 18 of the PAA acts as a safety valve to diffuse any potential conflict therefore it is the duty of the police to prevent a clash or conflict should there is a possibility that it would eventuate,” he told the High Court here.
Justice Nanthan said the application, filed by three city Malay trader groups, failed, among others, to provide a credible explanation as to why the suit was only filed at the eleventh hour when Bersih 2.0 had already made it known that the Bersih 5 rally was to be held within the Dataran Merdeka vicinity since September this year.
He also agreed with the argument presented by Bersih 2.0’s lead counsel Gurdial Singh that no private citizen or groups should use the court to prevent any organisations from exercising their constitutional right to assemble.
The High Court judge cited Section 18 of the PAA to point out that only the authorities have the power to impose restrictions, as stated by the provision that requires the police to direct any organisation holding a counter-rally to relocate to prevent a confrontation.
Speaking to reporters after the ruling was delivered, lead counsel for Bersih 2.0 Gurdial Singh said Justic Nanthan’s mention of Section 18 of the PAA was a powerful reminder that the police have the power to direct the Red Shirt counter-rally to a different location.
“Section 18 of the PAA clearly indicates that the police have ample of power to diffuse potential conflict and we do hope that they would take it up,” he said.
Earlier today Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan argued that the police are duty bound to prevent the rival Red Shirts movement from holding its counter rally to Bersih 5 this Saturday.
The former Bersih 2.0 chairman cited Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which states that the district police chief must provide an alternative date, time or venue for the organiser of a counter rally to prevent clashes between demonstrators.
The point was raised as part of the defendants’ submission to dismiss the injunction.
Ambiga, who was also acting as a counsel for Bersih 2.0 this evening, said she was with the judge’s decision.
I am happy that Section 18 (of the PAA) was mentioned and recognised by the judge..this clearly states that the police have the power to act,” she said.
Members of the Red Shirts movement were reported to have harassed Bersih supporters during their nationwide campaign to mobilise support for Bersih 5 since October by tailing them, surrounding individuals handing out leaflets and repeatedly demanding explanations in loud voices.
More recently, Jamal was recorded on video as saying he would “chop up” Bersih supporters during an altercation with police present that left him with a bloodied nose.