This column explores issues of fundamental freedoms and human rights. This writer believes that rights and freedoms must be upheld by the State. Our Federal Constitution guarantees freedom to move, freedom to peaceably assemble without arms, freedom of speech and expression, amongst others. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights too guarantees these freedoms and provide that each and every person is entitled to these rights, without exceptions.
But these rights and freedoms are not absolute. There are limits to these rights and freedoms. The Federal Constitution provides that freedoms may be restricted by law for several reasons, provided that these restrictions are reasonable. Under human rights law, the limits are far narrower; usually when the exercise of these rights endangers other people. In such circumstances, the State should step in.
When several NGOs, calling themselves ‘Council of Islamic NGOs’, protested against the Chinese New Year greeting video made by Seputeh Member of Parliament Teresa Kok, in principle they had the right to do so. They are perfectly entitled to feel offended by the video, even though other might feel that there is nothing insulting about the video at all. However, as this writer wrote a fortnight ago, there is no such thing as the right not to be offended. It is not the State’s responsibility to step in when one’s sensitivities are disturbed.
But the State must step in when the protesters threaten harm. This is precisely what happened in the demonstration by the so called ‘Council of Islamic NGOs’. It was reported that they had slaughtered two chickens and offered to reward anyone who slapped Teresa Kok RM1,200.00 if the act is caught on camera.
This is a clear case of criminal intimidation and it may run foul of several other penal laws. More importantly, it incited violence against other people. The very fact that they slaughtered two chickens during the protest also meant that the assembly is not without arms. This is no longer a permitted exercise of the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech and expression.
The other pertinent question is whether the organisers of the protest notified the police of their assembly. Under the Peaceful Assembly Act, organisers of any assembly must notify the police 10 days before the assembly. The video was published on 27 January 2014. The protest was held on 6 February 2014. This would mean that the organisers must notify the police latest on 28 January 2014. However, the first round of police reports and outrage over the video only started in early February. As such, it is very unlikely that the organisers would have had time to give the requisite 10 days notice.
In any event, queries to the @PDRMsia twitter account on this have been met with silence.
So what did the Home Minister have to say about the protest?
“Slapping is not a threat. If they said ‘kill her’, then it would be a threat. The slap thing is between her and them (the NGOs who offered the reward)”, he was reported to have said.
Unfortunately, his response was not unexpected. The full force of the law will be used against a peaceful assembly without arms when the protest is directed at the government. But when a protest is with arms and with clear physical threats and intimidation, no investigation is warranted because it was against an opposition politician.
This writer takes the position that this requirement of notification is unconstitutional. However, we have seen again and again how opposition politicians and activists who protested against the government are charged in Court for not giving the requisite notification. Yet when it comes to a protest against an opposition politician, all of a sudden the 10 days requirement is not needed.
There is a perception that there are 2 sets of laws when it comes to implementation. But can you blame people for having such a perception, when the facts are staring at them in the face?
The Federal Constitution provides that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law. Unfortunately, it would appear that despite this constitutional guarantee, the State has a long way to go before it can truly uphold the same.