Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) has joined the chorus of criticism over warnings of action against the organisers of a rally slated to be held on Sept 16, saying the government's response to the "Save Malaysia" gathering are "an age-old tactic" also used by previous administrations to clamp down on public assemblies deemed as "highly sensitive".
In a statement condemning the police warnings, Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy described them as an attempt to curtail the people's constitutional right to peacefully assemble.
"As self-proclaimed 'reformists', the current government should know better than to perpetuate state intimidation to curtail the right to peaceful assembly, especially when many of its members experienced this practice first-hand due to organising or particpating in public assemblies while in the opposition," he said.
The "Save Malaysia" rally this weekend was organised by Perikatan Nasional (PN) to protest the attorney-general's controversial decision to halt the corruption trial of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Zahid, the Umno president and Barisan Nasional chairman, had faced 12 counts of criminal breach of trust, eight of corruption, and 27 of money laundering involving tens of millions of ringgit belonging to Yayasan Akalbudi.
He was given a discharge not amounting to acquittal or DNAA on Sept 4 after deputy public prosecutor Mohd Dusuki Mokhtar informed the judge of the request by the Attorney-General's Chambers to discontinue all proceedings against him.
Deputy police chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay had warned of action against the rally organisers, saying they must comply with requirements under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA).
He said that according to Section 9(1) of the PAA, any party intending to hold a rally must apply for a permit five days in advance.
When asked about rallies held without the necessary applications, he said that action would be taken according to the existing laws.
His comments as well as similar remarks by some Pakatan Harapan leaders drew criticism from several quarters including rights group Lawyers for Liberty which warned the government and police against intimidation and the use of the PAA.
Sevan said the police should not only allow but facilitate the gathering as PN had assured of its cooperation with the enforcement agency.
"Furthermore, the government must take concrete steps, including amending or repealing the PAA, towards ensuring that the people can fully exercise their fundamental freedom of peaceful assembly without discrimination," he said.
He also hit out at the police barricade at Plaza Tugu Negara which he said had prevented the organisers and protesters of the Lawan Lapar movement from marching to Parliament to submit a memorandum on food security to lawmakers.
"The layered police barricade is eerily similar to the human chains of police officers during the Walk for Judicial Independence last year," he said.
"The imposition of unlawful conditions by the police was also seen in both public assemblies, with the Lawan Lapar assembly involving the submission of the memorandum at the barricaded site, and the Walk for Judicial Independence involving a quota of representatives who would be allowed to go to Parliament."
Dang Wangi police chief Noor Dellhan Yahaya said yesterday that an investigation paper had been opened after a group tried to march to Parliament to submit a memorandum.
He said the group had disobeyed police orders as arrangements had been made by Parliament officials for the handover to be made at the National Monument.