KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 — Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi insisted today that public assemblies are not a suitable platform for political expression despite a recent landmark Court of Appeal judgement that upheld the right for anyone to hold peaceful demonstrations.
In response to yesterday’s massive street protest against the government’s plan to roll out a new consumption tax next year, the minister claimed most Malaysians are “sickened” by such rallies for disrupting their routine.
“The majority of the public generally know that street demonstrations disrupt their daily lives,” he told a news conference at Umno’s headquarters here.
“Businesses and the reaction to demonstrations are extremely negative... they have become sickened by these demonstrations,” added Zahid, who is also Umno vice-president.
He observed that the authorities agreed to the rally against the Goods and Services Tax (GST) only after the organisers agreed to certain conditions, which he suggested were not kept.
“They can express their differing views through the various existing platforms but not through demonstrations or demonstrations that do not abide by the guidelines of the PAA,” Zahid said, using the initials for the Public Assembly Act 2012.
He said the rally organisers had violated the agreement after a minor scuffle broke out between PAS volunteers who helped with security and traffic control yesterday and a group of self-professed anarchists.
The minister was mum on possible action against rally organisers, but the police have said no investigation was forthcoming on the rally despite declaring it illegal last week.
Zahid, however, said the authorities will act against those who allegedly assaulted a photojournalist at the rally yesterday.
“KDN and the police are sympathetic towards the photographer and an investigation will be opened for action to be taken,” he said, using the Malay initials for the Home Ministry.
The government has come under fire for charging opposition leaders with violating certain clauses in the PAA, such as failing to provide the police with a 10-day advance notice.
But on April 25 the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled it unconstitutional to criminalise spontaneous public assemblies in breach of the requirement, causing public embarrassment for the police force.
Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar was forced to recall his earlier declaration that the May Day anti-GST rally was illegal.
Police estimated some 15,000 people had taken part in yesterday’s demonstration to protest an impending tax that critics say would burden the poor.
The rally called “GST — Protest till it is dropped” is organised by a coalition of 89 non-government organisations, including workers’ rights group, Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit), and student activist group, Solidariti Anak Muda Malaysia (SAMM).