KUALA LUMPUR, April 25 — Organisers will proceed with a planned May Day rally to protest against the Goods and Services Tax (GST), brushing aside the “illegal” tag placed on the event by police.
The May 1 Committee, which has been facilitating the annual rally since 1994, said that May 1 is globally recognised as workers’ day and typically marked with mass protests around the world for workers’ rights.
“More importantly, it is a day when the working class exercises their fundamental right guaranteed under the constitution,” said Haris Ibrahim, representing Anything But Umno (ABU), a non-governmental movement part of the organising committee.
He disputed the police’s contention that the organisers had failed to secure the permission of the owner of the planned venue, Merdeka Square, insisting that the spot was a public space open to all.
The rally themed “GST — Protest till it is dropped”, is to coincide with the International Worker’s Day celebration this year.
The GST Bill was passed through the Dewan Rakyat on April 7, despite strong resistance, ensuring that the consumption tax starts at a flat rate of 6 per cent beginning April 1 next year.
The group plans to gather at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre and march to Merdeka Square.
The committee’s spokesperson, S. Arutchelvan, pointed out that the police have been inconsistent on the issue for the past 20 years.
“In 2003, when United States Secretary Condoleezza Rice visited, the police granted us a permit to rally on May 1 even when we did not apply for one.
“The police need to make up their minds on what is what,” said Arutchelvan.
Prior to the media conference, the committee also hand-delivered a letter to Dang Wangi district police chief (OCPD) ACP Zainuddin Ahmad to communicate its decision to proceed with the rally.
Arutchelvan added that committee has taken the necessary steps, including crowd control, medical assistances and legal aid, to ensure the rally march runs smoothly.
The peaceful march will also be monitored by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysian (Suhakam) and the Bar Council, he added.
Zainuddin was previously reported by The Star newspaper as saying that the organisers were asked to change their final venue to Stadium Merdeka instead of Dataran Merdeka, as the historic square is closed to the public due to ongoing upgrading works.
The OCPD had added that the organisers have not stated their view on the change of venue and the 10-day deadline has since passed.
The Peaceful Assembly Act (PAA) 2012 prohibits any assembly that are deemed as “protests”, a definition that is left to respective district police chief to determine.
Section 9(1) of the legislation requires organisers to inform the district police chief of their intended purpose 10 days before date of assembly.
In a turn of events this morning, the Court of Appeal in a landmark ruling declared it unconstitutional to criminalise spontaneous public assemblies in breach of the 10-day notice.
The appellate court said that the notice requirement under Section 9(1) of the PAA was more of a “social responsibility” rather than a compulsion, and hence acquitted Selangor deputy Speaker Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad of a charge under the PAA last year for organising a rally in Petaling Jaya.
The court then found Section 9 (5) of PAA, which imposes a maximum RM10,000 fine for non-compliance of the notice requirement, unconstitutional.
The May 1 Committee is made up of 15 notable civil society movements, including workers’ rights group Jaringan Rakyat Tertindas (Jerit) and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and endorsed by coalition of 90 NGOs.
Federal opposition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR), has also vouched its support and called on its members to congregate at locations close to Dataran Merdeka next Thursday.
The Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC) will also be conducting a similar protest at Dataran Petaling Jaya on the same day.