PUTRAJAYA, Aug 23 ― Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah hailed the appellate court’s dismissal of the government’s appeal today as an affirmation of Malaysians’ constitutional right to protest peacefully.
She added that the Court of Appeal’s judgment is a major boost for future rallies, including Saturday’s #TangkapMO1 protest organised by a youth group and her coalition’s undated plans to hold a Bersih 5 rally this year.
“It's not just an encouragement to Bersih 5, but August 27, that's going to be #Tangkap MO1 [rally], it's a big encouragement for freedom of assembly,” she told reporters here immediately after the court decision.
“I guess this one actually has a lot of implications in future rallies, it means that our freedom of assembly is upheld and we are very happy about it,” she also said.
Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who was the former Bersih 2.0 co-chair, said the court ruling meant that the government cannot file a lawsuit under the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012 for property damages that occurred during rallies.
“In terms of the PAA, what it means is you (government) cannot sue for damages against participants under the PAA. And nevertheless they had failed to prove their case in any event,” she said.
Commenting on the Court of Appeal ruling, Ambiga said Bersih 2.0 was “pleased” to hear that each of the three judges on the panel today wrote separate judgments on the different areas of the law.
“They have taken this case very seriously. And we are very pleased that they have given it full consideration and come to the conclusion that in fact the High Court judgment is largely upheld, just a few variations,” she said.
Earlier today, the Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that the federal government is not entitled to sue electoral reform group Bersih 2.0 for compensation of over RM110,000 in property damages during a 2012 rally.
Justice Datuk Rohana Yusuf, who chaired the three-judge panel, dismissed the government's appeal on its main claim for the compensation, noting that both the PAA and the Government Proceedings Act do not give the government the right to file a civil claim or lawsuit for negligence respectively.
However, Rohana said the panel allowed part of the government's appeal on the counterclaim by then Bersih 2.0 committee member Dr Wong Chin Huat, which means that the government does not need to pay RM6,000 out of the RM21,000 in damages previously awarded to him.
The two other judges on the panel today are Datuk Varghese George Varughese and Datuk Mary Lim Thiam Suan.
On January 30, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that Bersih 2.0 was not liable for property damage during its sit-in protest on April 28, 2012, dismissing the government's claim for RM110,543.27 in property damage.
Among other things, High Court judge Datuk John Louis O'Hara noted that the police's own actions and omissions contributed to and resulted in the damage, adding that the damage occurred after the rally was called off and that it was not proven satisfactorily that legitimate rally participants had caused the damage.
On May 23, 2012, the government sued Bersih 2.0's co-chairs Ambiga and Datuk A. Samad Said and 13 other committee members under Section 6 (2)(g) of the PAA 2012, claiming compensation for alleged damages to property — including 15 police vehicles — during the rally.