NGO upset highly anticipated public forum in Sarawak mall called off

Lawyer Ann Teo says we should ask ourselves what we can do for the country rather than asking what the country can do for us. — Picture by Sulok Tawie
Lawyer Ann Teo says we should ask ourselves what we can do for the country rather than asking what the country can do for us. — Picture by Sulok Tawie

KOTA SAMARAHAN, March 16 ― The highly anticipated public forum, with Muara Tuang State Assemblyman Datuk Idris Buang and Sarawak Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) secretary Andrew Lo listed as panelists, scheduled for tonight has been canceled as the organisers did not apply for a police permit.

Rise of Sarawak Efforts (ROSE), a non-governmental organisation, was informed by police that it must obtain a police permit as required by the Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012 for holding the forum in a public place.

ROSE chairperson Ann Teo said Summer Mall shopping complex, where the forum on Youth and Employment in Sarawak: Opportunity of Challenge” scheduled to start at 7.30pm, is being interpreted broadly as a public place under PAA by the police.

“It is not necessary to apply for a police permit to hold the forum at the mall as it is a private place.

“If you say that a mall like this is a public place, then what about coloring competition, children singing competition, do the organisers of these events need to apply for a police permit to use this mall?” she asked.

Teo said the broad interpretation of the Act is curbing the constitutional rights of the citizens, particularly NGOs like ROSE which plays an important role in creating awareness in society.

“The objective of this public forum is to have a free and open discourse on issues that affect Sarawakians, and tonight’s topic is on youth and state of employment in Sarawak,” she said.

She believed that the forum would contribute to the sharing of valuable information, engagement with the public and policy-makers and experts.

She said both Idris and Lo have expressed their disappointment at the cancellation of the forum.

Teo, who is also a practicing lawyer, said PAA does not require any organiser of events in public place to apply for a police permit.

She also said a number of people who turned up at the venue of the forum have expressed their disappointment at the cancellation.

Idris, who is also PBB information chief, said he would not attend the forum as a panelist since there is no police approval.

He said in a statement that he would attend the forum at a later date provided that ROSE has obtained the necessary documents from the police.

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