Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Rules on Protest Rallies and Demonstrations? We are No Different to London or New York

So once again, Anwar got what he wanted: a noisy protest rally at Kelana Jaya stadium and the international media reporting his claims of a flawed GE13, while largely ignoring evidence to the contrary.
Bersih's argument about a protest permit not being needed because Kelana Jaya stadium is a "designated place of assembly" seemed invalid given the police are required to act on public safety and security concerns regardless of the venue.
And remember, Anwar has been there before. Only last year he was accused of inciting violence on the streets of KL at the end of the Bersih 3.0 protest which had up to then been peaceful – and he still faces charges over that incident.
Our restrained police response to the planned protest was actually superior to the way that other democracies tend to approve and at times restrict demonstrations. From London to New York, police and government officials issue permits, also routinely refusing to issue them on a wide range of criteria, and use all manner of means to prevent public gatherings.
In the United Kingdom police have the power to stop suspected demonstrators before they even turn up to an event "if they suspect that a breach of the peace may be about to occur." It amounts to pre-emptive detention.
Protesters can also be cordoned in parks and streets for hours in what's known as 'kettling' and protest leaders can receive anti-social behaviour orders in advance of a protest, which means they are marked for arrest as soon as they turn up.
Just to show how strict it can be in the UK, protesters at the recent funeral of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had to ask permission to turn their backs on her coffin, lest they break the law.
In the United States, protesting at an event that could possibly have Secret Service protection – which includes rock concerts and spring events – is now a felony offence with up to ten years jail. This was signed into law by President Obama in July last year.
Are our police and our laws really out of step? No. They were restrained, even invisible. But forced to do their job, they now risk becoming an unwilling party to Anwar's shrewd campaign to politicise the aftermath of GE13.

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